Escape

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Many, many millennia ago…

 

It was torment to have all one’s sins laid bare, to have to relive the pain that had been enacted upon those who had no right with which to do so.  Madness held him in a grip that would offer no leverage, forcing him to babble incoherently at times within his unseen prison as he attempted to escape, to flee, even to block out the multitude of voices that now assailed him, damning his every action within the past few decades.  So few years were little to one of his kind, or one of his former kind he should amend.  Three decades in the life of Shaper were little more than a pittance, a laughable passage of time during which much or little could happen. What was happening to him?

Sivis felt like screaming as he was torn apart over and over again within the mental prison that his former lover had placed him.  His body was gone, he was nothing more than energy, ethereal and unable to affect the world he had so desired to rule.  It was his right!  It was their right as the masters of the energies that ran so rampantly within, without and all through the realm!  Why should they not enjoy the full benefits of this world, why could they not-?!

The scales must balance!

You must be judged.

            Yes judged!

            Held accountable for your sins.

            Sins against all Shapers, all kind, all races and all beings!

            You have killed!

            You have destroyed!             You have maimed and burned!

            There must be punishment!

The swirl of voices that thundered through Sivis’s mind, or rather the cloud of dark matter that had once been his mind, were like lances of the purest light, tearing at him a piece at a time.  Somehow he knew, through the madness, through the torment, that this would not end, that his diminished race would seek to flay what was left of him a piece at time, tearing away what was his as they exacted their vengeance.  It was what he would have done.

Wait?  What?  He was in confusion, a stupor that he could not shake off, though he knew in the pit of whatever soul he still possessed that he would never allow such a thing to happen.  Or would he?

Sinner.

            Defiler.

            Enough! Sivis roared, or at least tried to.  In his current form he could not muster the energy he needed so badly, the power that had come to his touch so readily only a short time ago.  How had this happened?  How had a slip of a girl like Aliyana been able to defeat him so easily?  He knew the shape and color of his prison at least, though he could see no walls nor even a single hint of anything other than the swirling, veiled mists that swirled all around him.  There was pain of course, but there had been pain aplenty since his rise to power.  The Dark did not simply give without taking, exacting a price that Sivis had almost not been prepared to pay once he had realized what it was.

Foul, unclean.  Sivis tried to ignore the voices, but this of course did not work. Simply ignoring something or someone did not make them go away, it only made them more insistent, more determined to slip past the hasty guard that had been erected.  He could no more escape the voices than he could the unknown walls of this prison.  It was a state of mind, that was all, but in this current moment Sivis knew that his mind was not up to the challenge of maneuvering past the unfathomable gates that would set him free.  So he would wait, and he would suffer.  It was what he did best after all.  At least until it was time to strike.

*                      *                      *

 

Aliyana had never known pain such as this.  It was an agony not of the flesh but of the heart, a pain that would not be sated by mere creature comforts of any sort.  She had stood against her former lover for many years now, though in the course of their lives it was little really.  Still, three decades of destruction had taken a heavy toll upon the world, turning once verdant and lush countryside into wasteland uninhabitable for even the most decrepit of beasts.  Only daemons and the filthy creatures of the Dark would see fit to exist in such regions, though thankfully the majority of their numbers had been either pushed back, exiled to this plane or simply destroyed.  The resulting catastrophe of so many daemons and angels falling in battle however had been just as devastating.

Composed of the opposing energies of Light and Dark, the death of such creatures was never mild, nor was it a simple death like say, a Shaper or an Ellevayne.  The immortals, those who had come first, would pass away peacefully in comparison to the volatile inhabitants of the two primal forces.

She could feel through the connection to her people the vicious craters and widespread canyons that had been torn into the face of the world.  Aliyana knew that Mother Earth, the seemingly metaphorical creature who presided over this realm, would not take vengeance for such acts, though she would indeed seek to heal the damage as best she could.  The scars that would mark the realm would remain for countless millennia she was sure, but Aliyana could not help but add herself to the long list of creatures that would receive their comeuppance eventually.  Though Mother Earth would not deign to lower herself in such a manner, the edicts and laws of nature would surely bring about the means of enabling either ka, karma or fate, whichever it might be, to exact what was rightfully due.

She was still pondering the strange, cryptic words that the stranger she had seen before confronting Sivis had said.  I damn you Lady of the Mists, and I salute you.  The utterance had confused her greatly, especially given the title he had used to describe her.  Or at least that was what it had sounded like.  She knew not who the man was, but there was still something so achingly familiar about him, something that she could not help but feel a kinship with, a closeness that beckoned to her in a way that was not entirely uncomfortable.  Truly she felt as though she should know the male that had spoken to her, yet she could not bring to mind a name, or even the full face of the dark-eyed character.

He was powerful, of that she was sure.  No one among her kind had such eyes as the stranger’s, not unless they had reached such a point in their lives that power was no longer a thing to be measured, but embraced.  There were few ancients left among the race of Shapers when the war had started, and as of now she could only surmise that maybe a handful remained.  Such members of her race were those who had existed for longer than even the elders of her former clan.  She had known one of them, a man named Eldis, quite well.  The ancient had been alive at the creation of the realm, the inception of the very universe that held this delicate orb aloft, or so he said.  Aliyana had been taught to respect the elders of her clan and to revere the ancients, though even she had trouble believing everything she was told at times.  Of course this would explain just why Eldis had acted so strangely, taking himself from the war time and again, claiming he just wanted to be left alone.

It was said that the ancients, having weathered the tumult of creation, had grown tired and weary of what had become of the realm.  The race of Shapers had done their best to maintain balance, but even that had not seemed to please the ancients, who wanted only solitude and a chance to contemplate when the creation would end.  Eldis had told her of such a thing more than once when she had pressed him, expressing her interest in the way of the young that few elders can ever ignore indefinitely.  And so he had told her.

Everything that had a beginning had an end, it was a part of the precious balance, he had almost sneered using the word, by which the many realms hung upon.  If one side should ever grow heavier than the other then there would be imbalance, there would be collapse.  Such had the war demonstrated.

Eldis had entered the war more than once, though he had always sought his own form of solitude time and again, much preferring his own company to that of others.  After the last fiasco that had erupted near the coastline not far from where she sat now, Aliyana had known better than to seek him out again.  What had happened on the rocky shores had been so horrible that even she had thought to find her own manner of exile for a time.  But of course for her, that had been impossible.  She had been given a responsibility, and it could not be shirked, not even to heal the mental wounds of those who had suffered.

She knew vaguely where the old man was now, but she would not dare to confront him, nor would she seek out the wounded Ellevayne that had somehow managed to walk away from the failed attempt to close yet one more rift that Sivis had opened between this realm and the dreaded Dark.  The forces of Light had been involved as well in the ill-fated debacle, but they too had failed in their charge of closing the rift.  At this moment it was still open, but it was unable to be accessed thanks to the Joining.  The ultimate sacrifice of her people had seen to the binding of every rift across the vast breadth of this world, sealing each one away until such a time as Aliyana could find a way to close them.  The power of the Shapers would not wane until she saw fit, though it was a strain upon her mind and heart each day that she had not imagined possible.

Any lesser being would have surely perished under the constant assaults of the Dark upon the barriers and the charge she had been given to harbor their master.  Against her chest dangled the single red pearl that her former love had given her, his prison in a sense and the only means she had of keeping him locked away from the world he had tried to destroy.  As prisons went it was not perfect, she knew that it had its share of faults, but she could only pray that Sivis did not discover them.  Aliyana could only hope that the punishment he endured now at the hands of their people was enough, that he would find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to think of anything other than the pain and torment that was even now being foisted upon him.

She had no inkling what to do first.  The world was a tattered place, much different than it had been before the war.  Sivis had attempted to foist the Dark upon it, unleashing horror after horror along with the help of the Ellevayne and Shapers that had joined him.  The battles that had erupted over the many lands of this realm had been cataclysmic and eventually fatal to most, tipping the scales one way and then the other as the forces arrayed against one another had sought to tap into the various sources of power that had been secreted away by her race so long ago.

From the Sacred Glens to Echoes Pass to the fabled Guardian Stone, Sivis had attempted to subvert and dominate every last piece of their world, though he had been stopped more often than not.  Still, the damage he had wrought had been more than substantial, laying waste to entire budding civilizations that had stood absolutely no chance of withstanding his fury.  Aliyana had not wept for the new race, these beings called humans, but she had done her best to insure that they were not erased from the face of the realm before they had a chance to taste the riches to which they had been introduced.

No one, not even the ancients, knew where the humans had come from, nor why they had deigned to call themselves such a word.  Human, what did that even mean?  Aside from a few rough differences between them, her race and the humans looked very much alike, though she at least knew the value of clothing that covered her for modesty.  As of yet she had not seen a single human that knew how to completely cover up, they’re women walked around topless for pities sake!  Yet there was a certain ingenuity that the race possessed, an intelligence that was just as bestial as it was of a higher regard.

They could not shape, nor could they even perform the simple acts that all Shapers learned in their youngest years of life.  There was obviously no power within the forms of the humans, though Aliyana had sensed at times something that could perhaps be described as latent abilities among a few of them, innate talents that emerged in different ways that set them apart from their fellows.  The humans were powerless, but they were not helpless.

Of course this had not helped them when Sivis had come to them.  She had been forced to watch the subjugation of more than a few humans during the war.  Sadly enough several of the new race had chosen to stand with Sivis, believing the promises he had told to them.  Thus had the race of humanity already began its perilous turn towards the same path that had created such a schism between her own race.  Aliyana could not help but think that this was the way of all thinking beings.  Any and all who could see past the animalistic needs of their bodies were essentially doomed if her beliefs were correct. Higher thought did not denote a higher existence, it only insured that they would revert once more to the beasts they truly were.

These were dark thoughts born of a shadow upon her heart that would not be banished so easily.  She had seen terrible things during the war, sights that would no doubt be burned into her mind for all time to come.  As a Shaper she would weather centuries, even millennia, without aging more than a few years for ever few hundred.  Her youth would remain indefinitely however thanks to the Joining, the ultimate trust her race had placed in her to keep their memory alive.  It was a terrible burden, a yoke across her neck that she had not desired.  But it had been her duty.  She would do as she had been bade, it was the final act anyone of her race could have possibly done.  And she would carry the burden, no matter what came.

*                      *                      *

 

The voices did not relent, just as he’d known they would not.  Sivis knew that beyond the darkness of his prison, where the callers and jeers came from, that his kind would remain safe and secure, free to say what they wished and free to pass judgment upon him as they pleased.  It was what he expected, they were cowards that would not commit to their own condemnations.  They had sent a girl, barely a woman, to confront him.  It mattered not that Aliyana was of the same age as he, she was virtually unschooled in the ways he had become.  Sivis had become a master of the Dark, one who could bend the shadowy strands the realm was composed of to his whim.

Murderer.

            Betrayer.

            Foul, unclean son of Chaos!  Sivis smiled despite the pain that was heaped upon him, not rebuking the voices even once as they continued, their constant babble threatening to overwhelm each and every thought he attempted to entertain.  There was supposedly no way out of his prison, but that also meant that there was no way for them to get in.  They were bound by the walls of his confinement just as he was.  Thus it was easy for him to withstand the agony and vitriol that they hurled in his direction.  It was almost laughable really that they believed he would relent, that he would repent his ways simply to gain favor.  There was no such thought within his mind, he knew that there would never come a day when he would be forgiven, and he relished in this fact.

He did not want forgiveness, he didn’t even desire a reprieve from the pain, though it ached horribly and reminded him of the betrayal he’d suffered.  It also allowed him to focus however, to watch and listen as those who harried him insistently pressed against the walls of his prison, no doubt seeking to make their point known upon each none-existent cell of his incorporeal form.  He would have laughed, but that too would have pained him.  And it would have broken his concentration.

*                      *                      *

 

“It’s a nice day at least I guess.”  Aliyana didn’t turn around as she heard the familiar voice, smiling faintly before blinking once.  The day around her was indeed quite nice, though its beauty was somehow diminished by the fact that she still harbored the dire thoughts that had troubled her for the past few days.  She had returned to her homeland, the narrow strip of land that had for so long been her place of sanctuary.  It was a Sacred Glen and by dint of this had survived much of the devastation that Sivis had brought to bear.  Still, it had been touched by the hand of darkness and as such had been forced to suffer somewhat.  That damage could be repaired, though the damage she was truly concerned about would no doubt take far longer to heal.  She wondered idly if it ever would.

“What are you doing here Taevan?”  She had to admit that she had become used to the Ellevayne that had stood at her side through much of the war, though she still had her reservations about him.  She neither hated nor liked Taevan, but he was at the very least useful.  And he wasn’t all that bad, just a bit impulsive, like most of his kind.

Taevan affected a confused look as she turned her eyes upon him, “What, I can’t just stop by to say hello?”  Aliyana did not blink as Taevan looked hurt.  She knew this act a little too well.  “Alright, I just came by to say goodbye for a while is all.  I figured since you and I had been through so much with, you know, that I would at least extend that courtesy.”  Aliyana didn’t really know how to feel about what Taevan’s words implied, though she was hardly surprised as a part of her seemed somewhat shocked.  The Ellevayne had not left her side more than a few times during the war, sticking around even when the two of them had butted heads over the next course of action.  He wasn’t really a friend, but he was no enemy either.

“Where are you going?”  Taevan shook his head, indicating that he didn’t know, but Aliyana knew that this was only to be expected.  The race of the Ellevayne were far different than her own, they were flighty where Shapers were dependable, shifty where her race was determined and carefree when Aliyana’s people had been resolute.  In short they were the balancing force for her kind, though they were nowhere near as powerful.

“I’m not sure yet, but I need a change of scenery.”  Taevan chuckled softly as he continued, “You’d think after all we’ve seen and been through I’d have had enough, but Geoff and Jill are ready to move, and I can’t really blame them.  Scott is kind of wanting to stay, but he’ll follow us no matter what.”  Aliyana nodded, she knew those that Taevan spoke of at least in part, and she knew that the small group had always stayed together through thick and thin.  She could easily admire their dedication to one another, especially given the limitations that their race was known for.

“I’ve learned through many a sending that certain parts of the few land masses that have broken free have need of someone-“  Taevan cut her off with an apologetic look, waving one hand in dismissal.

“No, no, and no.” Aliyana closed her lips as he continued, “No offense intended towards you and your people Aliyana, they made a sacrifice that my people would be hard-pressed to even consider, but we’ve had our part of this war.  The four of us are thinking of finally blending in with the world rather than flitting just above its concerns.” Aliyana’s eyebrows rose as Taevan laughed, “Yeah, I know, strange words coming from an Ellevayne right?  But war changes people we’ve found out.  We just want out for a while, or rather, we want to see what life is like on the inside, not just sitting above and looking down.”  Aliyana nodded as a small smile curled the corners of her lips, finding a bit more respect for Taevan in that moment as she turned her gaze out towards the vast ocean in front of the two of them.

The rolling waves crashed hard against one another farther out, as though vying for the right to be first upon the shore.  She breathed deeply through her nostrils as the scent of the salt air wafted in towards shore, closing her eyes briefly as she savored the smells and sounds of her home.  A soft wind caressed her body in that moment, catching Taevan as well as he fell silent for several breaths.

“What will you do?” he asked her.

For a moment Aliyana had no answer for the Ellevayne, but as she turned back to him, opening her eyes, she said, “I am where I belong Taevan.  The world will heal itself in time.”  That apparently was a good enough answer for the Ellevayne as he merely nodded, his look one of pure acceptance as he returned her gaze.

Taevan then held one hand out to Aliyana, cocking his elbow so that she might grab his forearm in the traditional style of friendship.  Aliyana hesitated for only a moment before reaching out, feeling as Taevan’s strong fingers wrapped softly around her slender forearm.  The larger being could feel the power in her body as well as she gripped just as softly, the bond that passed between them in that moment serving to link them in a way that she knew would never be broken.  It was an odd thing to become bonded in such a way to an Ellevayne, but for once, Aliyana didn’t really find it displeasing.

“Safe travels and bright skies Taevan.” Aliyana spoke softly.

“May the scales balance.” Taevan said, just as softly.  Aliyana nodded, releasing the man’s forearm as he did the same.  Stepping back he nodded once, leaving without another word as she listened to his retreating footsteps upon the sandy plain behind her.

If he’d looked any closer he might have seen the trickle of sweat that had began to course down the left side of her face, the beginning effects of the sudden strain that had come on when he had touched her.  Something was wrong deep inside of her, something she did not understand and could not control.  Something very bad was going to happen soon, no matter what she did to stop it.

*                      *                      *

 

A stunning discovery: his prison was not infallible.  Sivis had waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed like centuries.  Time had no meaning in this place, there was no sun or moon to pass the time.  Light and Dark did not exist within his prison, thus he was diminished.  But the one who carried the prison had power, as did the one who had made contact with his jailor.  He continued to listen to the railings and ranting voices of those who sought to condemn him, but as the surge of unknown power had coursed along the darkened skies of his new domain Sivis had felt something, some indefinable yet crucial piece of his new world, shift.

The power was somehow familiar, he had felt something much like it during the war.  His insubstantial form roiled as he could recall the touch of the Ellevayne that he had managed to convince to his cause, only their power could carry such a quality.  And as his prison shifted so did the voices, becoming higher in pitch and taking on a fervent, maddening quality that entered his mind like the sharpest knives imaginable.  Sivis reeled for only a moment, adjusting to the sudden change quickly as he attempted to block them out once more.  And then the inexplicable happened, one of the voices somehow grew closer, as though the speaker were only a few paces from him.

He could hear the voice as though the speaker were right in front of him, detached from the others in a way that made Sivis’s mind whirl with the sudden possibilities.  His prison had been breached!  If that were possible from the other side, then perhaps it was so on his side!

Murdering, dark son of madness, you must be punis-!  The damning specter never got a chance to finish as Sivis reached out with his own will, finding the strength to do so by latching quickly onto the surprised ghost.  Here there were no solid beings, no firm grips to be had on flesh or clothing.  There was only the will, and his was very strong.  As the forgotten member of his race tried to free himself from Sivis’s dire grip the dark lord resisted easily, keeping his hold upon the specter as the others beyond the prison walls continued to clamor.  Perhaps they did not notice that he now held one of their own within his grasp, or perhaps they did not care.  That would certainly place a damper on the theory that they were so benevolent, so pacifistic and just.  They were hypocrites, doomed to repeat their mistakes again and again in this new world or the next it did not matter.

You who would dare to judge me, now it is your turn to face judgment.  Sivis spoke the words though he had no lips, voiced his rage even though he had no physical body to vent it with.  He was the Dark, he was a twisted will that would prove stronger than his captors and with the aid of whatever Ellevayne had provided him the power, he would be free.  As he drained the last of the essence from his most current victim Sivis opened eyes that did not exist, looking desperately for where the spirit had somehow managed to slip through the barrier that divided the yelling, screaming, condemning voices from him.  His power was still somewhat weak, but it was far greater than it had been only a short time before.  With this new insight he saw something that he had never noticed before.

His prison was not perfect.  There were cracks, fissures and other such gaps that he had not seen thanks to the unending pain and agony as his former race had knifed into him with each passing comment.  With his eyes wide open however Sivis could easily see the gaps he might penetrate, the fissures looking wide enough to accommodate a marauding army should such a thing be possible.  He knew too well why he had missed these, but now that he saw them he couldn’t help but wonder if the spirits that tormented him knew of them as well.

He was powerful, he knew this with a certainty that would not be erased, but he also knew that he was greatly diminished from what he’d once been.  Had Sivis been at full power he knew very well that breaching the walls of his cell would have been a task easily accomplished.  His whoring lover would never have been able to contain him had he been at his very best.  But then doubt niggled its way into his dark heart, reminding Sivis that he had not been weak when he had confronted Aliyana.  He had killed and killed again in the attempt to take her life, creating the dreaded death circle that younglings of his race were taught and yet cautioned never to use.  Why would anyone show something so that it could not be used?

You are the first that will feel my wrath little Shaper, there will be others.  With that said Sivis ascended quickly, or descended, since direction meant as little as time in this place.  He eyed one particular fissure, hammering his will against it quickly as he could feel the power racing across his incorporeal form.  He would be free, and then he would have his revenge.  It was all that remained.

*                      *                      *

 

Aliyana was not well, in fact she had never felt this much pain in her entire life.  Sweat ran down her face and body in runnels, coating her in a chill coat of salty liquid as she sat with her eyes closed and her arms hugged around her body.  Seated upon a large piece of grayish-white driftwood the young woman felt her stomach heave yet again as she could sense the disturbance within the red pearl she still wore.  She wanted so badly to throw it away, to toss it into the waves and let it drift away, but she could not.

Her charge lay imprisoned within the imperfect prison, but that would soon change as she could feel his dark will hammering again and again upon the walls she had placed him within.  Aliyana knew that even should he escape Sivis was too weak to do much more than battle her to a standstill, but even that was not desired.  She could not hope to keep the dark lord within the pearl, not at this juncture when she was still weakened from her ordeal, but she would try.  Against the creamy white skin of her chest the small bauble pulsed madly, its red hue seeming as deep as blood as its occupant continued to pound away at his walls, seeking release even as she attempted to deny him.

The world had suffered enough for now, she could not allow Sivis to run free yet again, she just could not.  Thirty years of war would soon become three centuries, and then more and more until he was finally sated.  Unfortunately she didn’t believe that time would ever come.  She had wanted to tell Taevan so badly of her plight, but there was little the Ellevayne could have done, and nothing he would have offered could have delayed the inevitable any longer.  Sivis would be free soon enough, there was only so much she could do, but in the Creator’s name she would certainly make the betrayer work for his freedom.  She would insure that he would be easy enough to recapture in time once he emerged.

It had only been days since he had been placed within his prison, though obviously the walls had been discovered easily enough.  Aliyana could only think that it had been contact with Taevan that had allowed such a thing to happen.  The energy given off and consumed by an Ellevayne was not subject to the same scrutiny as it was when utilized by a Shaper.  Her kind were far more analytical and conservative in their manner of using energy, where an Ellevayne allowed it to ebb and flow like the tides.  That quality had no doubt had much to do with how Sivis had managed to find a way to escape so quickly.

She could not blame Taevan, it was her own fault for what had happened.  It was to her the responsibility for his escape would fall, she could blame no other.  It would also fall to her to rectify the mistake, something she would do without complaint.  As another spasm wracked her Aliyana shuddered anew, closing her eyes as the sight of the onrushing waves were shut out, taken away by the darkness behind her lids.

Aliyana could see many things in the darkness, though nothing of what she expected.  The images that came to her had been coming for the last few days now, though not once had she been able to understand them.  They were images of battle, of figures that seemed as though they should have been familiar.  The power that each figure had thusly displayed had been easy to recognize, though their speech, their mannerisms and their faces were not.

As the images came again Aliyana could do nothing more than watch, mesmerized, as the scenes within the shadows took place.  There was power here, but also a temperance that would not be denied, that would keep the balance no matter what.  It was this perhaps that allowed her to watch without interrupting.

A single young man, perhaps no older than twenty winters or more, stands upon the gray sands of her home, a staff she has come to know very well in his left hand, held vertically to the ground and at his side.  His right hand is pressed firmly against his heart, his head is bowed and there is a look of, sorrow?, upon his handsome, bearded face. 

            Three figures surround him, one of them is massive, while the other two are normal-sized.  One is a woman with flowing blonde locks that gleam even in the dusk of the coming evening.  The large male possesses chunks and pieces of a strange stone upon his body, its angled surfaces gleaming a deep lavender in the fading light.  Each of the warriors, they are warriors she can tell from their bearings, carries a weapon, and look intent upon the man in the center.

            Before she can wonder why the three attack, coming at the young man from each side as he then reacts, faster than even Aliyana can see.  His staff, the Staff of the Shapers as it has been named, licks with cerulean flames as it becomes a blur, striking the big man first as he is knocked back, his strange, heavy-looking weapon flying backward as he just barely keeps hold of it.  The other male is next, receiving a hard kick from the young man’s left leg that strikes just above the man’s darting blades, catapulting him backward as the young man and the female meet.  Their weapons connect with a resounding peal of thunder as the sky seems to resonate with the force of their attacks.  She is not stunned, but rather intrigued as both combatants trade blows for several heartbeats before the males re-enter the fray, weapons diving for the young man’s body.

            The man disengages and then-

-Aliyana gasped, leaning forward as the glow from the pearl against her chest throbbed painfully, causing a headache to spread quickly into her temples and around to the front.

I will have my freedom.  The voice was unmistakable, it could be no one else, but she still tried to deny the dark bastard, tried to stem the tide of shadows that seemed to be creeping in upon her vision.  She could not allow Sivis to simply stroll back into the world, her charge in this regard was more serious than even Life and Death.

Her head was spinning as she attempted to keep Sivis contained, denying the dark one his freedom even as another vision appeared, this time slightly different but still of the same young man.  Aliyana almost gasped as-

the young man was beset again, this time by two females, each wielding weapons, of course they would, what foolishness was she thinking?  The young man fended off their rapid attacks left and right, high and low as they came on, never once allowing him to rest as Aliyana can feel the power behind each strike and block.  Something, perhaps a voice she would remember from the past or perhaps not, tells her that the two women, for all their ferocity, are no match for the young man.  Worse still, the women know this, but still they fight.

            There is a sadness within their actions, a sorrow that shows upon their faces as they continue to attack, pressing the young man back as thunder seems to rip across the sky, perhaps urging them to stop this foolishness.  The three combatants do not heed the storm however, merely going forth to attack again and again, moving ever onward as their strikes are met with the same ferocity by the young man.  The Staff of the Shapers is still in his hands, and its runes still lick with blue and white hot flames, though they do not so much scald the young man, licking across his skin without harm as he becomes a whirlwind of action, never ceasing as he defends and attacks, attacks and defends.  He is a warrior born and bred she thinks, a soul who was old when time was still young. This is an odd thought to have, though Aliyana allows it to paint the surface of the vision with her bold opinion.  She is-

-in pain.  Aliyana felt her stomach lurch as she was forced to slide painfully from the rough wood beneath her, holding one hand to her ailing abdomen as she fell to her knees upon the sands beneath her.  She felt as though she were about to retch as the red pearl came away from her skin, dangling free at the end of its braided cord, free of her confining garments.  The last of the Argen Nebul clan could feel the dark will of her former love as he surged again and again towards the walls of his cell, battering away at her resolve as the voices of her people, their people, wailed and moaned within her mind, their dim voices just barely registering as yet another vision came to her, assaulting Aliyana’s sensibilities as the emotions of the battle came through like nothing more than pain, raw, animalistic agony that tore at her heart, chafed against her soul and threatened to unravel the very fabric of her mind.  Aliyana almost screamed as-

thunder ripped the sky in two.  This was not the warning rumble she heard only moments ago, this is a tempest that threatens to split the very heavens asunder.  Lightning dances among the iron-gray clouds above, sparking here and there as the will of the one who has called it demands.  There are only two this time, the young man and a young woman who carries a long, silvery blade in each hand.  He still carries the staff, though its light is dimmed for now, as though he sees no need for such illumination.  Indeed, as the sky lights up with the flashes of elemental force there is no need for any further radiance.  The woman and man both have their heads bowed, their eyes closed as though in grief. 

            Aliyana cannot help but feel a definite sense of loss, of pain and misery that escapes all definition.  Beneath this however, she feels something that she has not felt in far too long, she feels love.  The young man and woman are in love, they care for each other so deeply that to them the world might well not exist, it might well not matter for all that they are bound to one another.  Their world is here and now, there is nothing else.

            Thus as they race toward one another Aliyana is confused.  As her blades meet the staff the artifact blazes with piercing blue flame, not harming her as it reflects away from her body, repelled as though by a high wind.  Above them the sky nearly tears itself apart as thunder crashes and lightning bolts collide, creating the most glorious and terrifying vision Aliyana has seen to date, in fact she cannot think-

            -of anything save for her pain.  This is nothing like she would have expected, though neither is it something she would have been surprised by.  She knew her former love would find a way out.  The red pearl he gifted to her years ago, a rarity, was not the most adequate of prisons, though it had seemed capable enough at first.  It had taken a good deal of patience, concentration and power to enact the current properties of the pearl, though it had still been incomplete.  The war had been going on after all, her attention had been pulled in many different directions at once.  She is not to blame for the expediency that was used, nor the efficiency that was lost.

If any blame lay anywhere, it was with Sivis.  Though he would not accept such a mantle the coward had not allowed any of them to rest, striving tirelessly to make the world in the image he so desired.  He had allowed the most dangerous creatures of the Dark free reign within the realm, inviting them freely into this world, the only method by which they could enter.  He had been a fool, though in his mind he was no doubt a savior, or perhaps the only true power worthy of what lay within his veins.  As she reminded herself, he was a fool.

A dark, maniacal cackle filled her mind as Sivis slammed against the walls of his cell yet again, his desire for freedom spurring him on towards great heights of madness with each passing breath. She could not hope to hold out much longer, but she must.

You cannot defeat me! Sivis screamed at her, his voice the screech of a daemon as he railed against her.  Wait, was that right?  Was she experiencing another vision or was that just the struggle between her and Sivis, what was-

she doing in this image?  She did nothing really, just stood there, watching as the fight unfolded far beyond the shore, the effect of blade meeting blade parting the waters as the two combatants stood upon what looked like a giant sandbar.  But sandbars were not copper in hue, nor did they tilt such as this surface seemed to ever so slightly.  The force of the blows that each combatant rained down upon one another managed to part the waters on all sides of them, creating swells that nearly exploded outward as the power roiled all around them.

            That was Sivis!  And it was the same young man!  Who was the dashing young man who seemed to appear in all of her visions?  He was no one she knew, yet she feels so close to him!   

            The staff was no longer in his hands, but as Aliyana watches she can see that the weapons he holds, two long blades that have a definite curve to them, each burn with the same blue and white flames of the staff.  Could these weapons possibly be imbued with the same power as the staff?  But how would that be possible?  She continues to watch, feeling as though she is somehow a part of this but not understanding how.  This is not right, how can she-

            -hope to withstand the dark lord any longer?  She knew there would be no appealing to his honor, he had none.  Aliyana could not hope to barter for anything, there was nothing that Sivis would want save for her death.  As the dark pools that were her eyes narrowed into slits of the darkest midnight she growled, a very unlady-like sound that was more akin to a wild animal than a Shaper.  She would not allow the dark bastard to best her, even if he did escape.

That thought came a moment too late as the pearl pulsed once more with the crimson light from within its unknown depths, disgorging a ribbon of shadow that coiled quickly away from her form, growing and expanding quickly with each passing breath as Aliyana cried out, falling to her face as the strength left her limbs.

FREE! The cry came from the wisp of shadow, though it was little more than a hazy, indistinct ribbon of darkness that floated along with the breeze, drifting quickly away as Aliyana watched.  Her eyes were still narrowed in pain, her body was clenched in agony, but her heart was still torn as it had been for many years now.  As she watched the twisting ribbon of shadow escape she could not help but feel as the shadows gathered around her, closing off the world from her sight as the maniacal laughter followed her down into the darkness.  Soon there was not even that.

*                      *                      *

 

She woke with a splitting headache and a wracking pain that had stiffened every last muscle in her body.  Thankfully the healing properties of a Shaper were always in effect, thus upon waking Aliyana was able to shake off the worst of the pain, rising slowly to her feet.  Sivis was nowhere to be seen, whether in his true form or the curling wisp of shadow that had emerged from the pearl that remained hanging against her chest.  She felt a deep ache within her heart, she had failed.

This will come to pass more than once.  The unknown, no, not unknown any longer, voice came from off to her right.  Looking in that direction she saw the robed figure that she had seen in her visions, the same young man with the eyes as dark as hers.  The silver mists she had seen before in his gaze still traveled on their endless course throughout his eyes, though no longer did she find this strange.

“Just tell me one thing.” Aliyana said.  The strange specter was silent as though waiting.  His dark form rippled slightly as a stiff breeze came in from off the ocean, threatening to tear the apparition apart.  “How will it end?”

The specter’s response was not what Aliyana had expected, though as the young man smiled she found that she could accept this as an answer.  No one was allowed to know the entire future, not even the seers that had existed among her kind.  It was a futile effort at best and a dangerous curse at the very worst.  There were those that had gone mad in an attempt to see what would be, their minds refusing to accept what had been shown to them.  She would not attempt such a thing unless it were absolutely necessary, but for some reason Aliyana could believe it might be one day.  Perhaps she would be much wider when that day finally came.

“There is much to come, isn’t there?” she asked, taking her eyes from the specter to look out upon the ocean.  The ghostly figure said nothing, merely nodding his head in as ubiquitous a manner as he could.  There was something about the ghostly young man that Aliyana could not place her finger upon, but she would have with at least a little clarity been able to guess that she would be seeing him again somewhere down the long road she must now travel.

She would stake her life on it.

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