Of Love and Duty

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

 

Many, many millennia ago…

 

 

She’d erred somehow, Sivis had heard her coming and had been quicker than she could have imagined.  How had he become so powerful? What dark secrets did he hold that had enabled him to drop her so effectively and with such force?  Aliyana felt her body tingling as every nerve seemed to scream with pain, seeking to drive away the darkness that had been unleashed against her.  Never in her life had she felt pain on this level as her teeth clacked together over her tongue, drawing blood as she scrunched her eyes shut in the worst agony she’d ever experienced.  She knew Tumus was somewhere near, but at this moment she could do nothing more than thrash upon the ground, unable to call out for aid, unable to even speak to her former love, to ask why he had done this.

Her heart had torn the moment she’d realized he was lost to her, the breach unable to be bridged even by the notion that she had done as she was charged.  The precious balance her kind was charged with keeping could not be sundered in such a way, it was their duty to make sure that neither the Dark nor the Light were allowed upon this realm save by invitation.  Unfortunately the elder who had closed the rift, an old man named Eldis, had stated that this had already happened.  Eldis was among the few Shapers who did not seem to revere the balance, though neither did he embrace the utter chaos that would emerge from its absence.  Bound to serve his people, he still much preferred his solitude among the wilds, where the troubles of his kind seemed to rarely find him.

This time however, there was to be no hiding from the responsibility their race carried.  Not even Eldis, who was ancient among even their race, could be allowed to sit idly by and allow the world to pass on its way as he watched.  Even the ancient Shaper would need to join the battle, no matter his desire for peace.

There was no telling if the single rift that Sivis had opened had been the only one, or perhaps one of many.  Even Eldis, who was more in tune with this realm than most, could not be certain that the dark being had managed to pierce the unseen veils between this realm and so many others.  If such was the case there was no telling how many rifts Sivis had created, nor how many denizens of the darker and far chaotic planes he had invited into their world.

His own clan had already disowned him in spirit if not in flesh, for such a thing was not yet possible.  They would no longer recognize him as a part of their clan, nor would they speak his name lest it be to curse him.  Aliyana knew that this was the way of their people none could be allowed to shift the delicate balance that existed upon this world, not with sever repercussions.  But her heart still hurt.

She had loved Sivis for many years now, in fact the two of them had toyed with the idea of becoming officially known as man and woman, the most sacred bond that any Shaper could hope for.  They had spoken of beginning a family, perhaps one day their own clan, apart from all others as they made their own way within this vast world.  Sivis had been so different in those days, so full of life and ready to charge ahead and make a life for them both.  But he had changed somehow.  Somewhere and at sometime that she did not know, darkness had claimed his heart.  At one time she would have believed such a thing impossible, that it could never hope to happen in a million years.  But her love had become corrupted, a twisted thing that she barely recognized any longer.  He’d gone willingly to the darkness it seemed, a devoted student of the Dark.  Such a realization warred with her denial that he had been tricked somehow, that his mind had been subdued by another force that he could not withstand.

He was a powerful Shaper, a true prodigy to his clan and a valued asset, until now.  If he so much as set one foot within the lands of his birth Sivis would be bound by the power of his clan as well as others, judged as traitor and no doubt executed.  There were crimes among their people that called for exile, for other punishments that would not be forgotten, but the price of betrayal was and most likely always would be death, a sure and swift meting of judgment by his people so that his evil would not spread and infect others.

Her head swam as Aliyana finally began to come to, the attack leveled against her body by her former love lessening with each breath as she could finally struggle to sit up.  Both hands went to her head in agony as she cried out, feeling hands upon her arms as she tried in vain to shrug them off.  She was far too weak though and could do nothing more than move from side to side, crying out as the pain spiked within her head and limbs, causing her arms to shake uncontrollably as she was helped to her feet.

“Aliyana!  Calm girl, calm yourself!  You are safe now, the dark one is gone”  The shouting voice echoed within her mind, clanging far too loudly as she jerked and tried to tear free of those who held her once more.  She felt a strong pair of arms encircle her then, holding her tightly even as the owner of the arms took care not to harm her.

“T-Tumus?” she breathed, her breath hitching as she tried to turn her head.  Tumus had been a good friend for many years, a childhood companion that had at times vied for her attention with Sivis.  No matter how he had tried however Tumus had always fallen just short of her affections, her heart had belonged to Sivis alone and it had vexed the far more statuesque Shaper in no small way.  Many times she had spoken to Tumus of this, making her mind known upon how she viewed him as a brother and a friend, but nothing more.  After a time Tumus had accepted this, though never had he and Sivis been the most steady of friends.  In fact it was safe to say that the two had never even once seen eye to eye on anything, including her.

“No child, Tumus is gone.”  Aliyana’s mouth opened wide in a shocked O as she heard the words, unable to accept what had just been said as tears began to spill from her eyes.

“W-what-?”  She could not finish her question, her tears flowing freely as she struggled slightly in the grip of the one that held her.  The voice sounded vaguely like her father, Lomis, but at this moment she was hardly in the mood to pay attention.  She couldn’t have possibly heard what he’d just said.

“The dark one my daughter.  Tumus fought valiantly, but the dark one has gained far too much power, Tumus was no match for him.”  Aliyana struggled for a bit more before going limp in her father’s strong arms, a wracking sob escaping her lips as she sagged against him.  Closing her eyes she could not tell if she was crying for Tumus or for Sivis, but after awhile she found it didn’t matter, neither one was ever coming back to her.

*                      *                      *

 

Several months later…

 

 

 

Her heart had not yet become stone, though it had hardened noticeably since that fateful night when her love had gone the way of the shadow.  Tumus had been given his final respects, his remains being cremated upon the beachfront at dusk so that his soul might find its way to the clearing at the end of the path.  No matter which clan they came from, each Shaper knew well enough that upon their exit from this world they would begin life anew in the next.  Death was only a transition, a gateway to another realm where the living soul would have a chance to make yet another life.  Aliyana knew that Tumus was not truly gone, but his passing still marked a time in her life when yet another piece of her innocence had been lost.

She’d joined the hunt for Sivis without prompting, insisting that she be among the few that were sent out in advance to ascertain his whereabouts and how much damage he’d already inflicted upon the land.  Thus far not a single being had found a trace of the dark one upon the peninsula, so it was that they had expanded their search to the neighboring lands, scouring the countryside for the dark beast.  It had already been noted that there as a definite change to the land, a feeling that could not be denied.  The Dark had been invited into their world by Sivis, its minions entering in droves as they swarmed forth to ravage yet another realm.

Measures were already being taken to insure that the entire world would not fall prey to their insanity, and Aliyana had been a part of many such acts.  The first among many had been the securing of their home upon the peninsula, an act that had taken nearly a month to achieve and several lives spent in keeping the dark things that wished their demise away long enough for the effect to be enacted.  When all was said and done the peninsula had been successfully hidden away from the creatures of the Dark, veiled behind a silver mist of such immensity that it covered the entire peninsula and much of the waters beyond.  Not a single creature of the Dark, no matter how powerful, could hope to penetrate the barrier that had been created.  Their home was safe at least.

The creatures that had been summoned were vast in number and diverse in form and race, though among them all undoubtedly the worst that had ever been encountered were the daemons, creatures of such ancient origin that many Shapers could not divine just how they had come to be.  Some claimed they were fallen angels, while others believed them to be bits of the Dark that had separated and somehow developed their own sense of self.  Aliyana didn’t care, she knew only that they were dangerous and as a result needed to be destroyed.

Among those who ventured forth into the surrounding lands to search for Sivis she was the only one who did not bring a weapon of any seemingly serious quality.  Her white wooden staff was a marvel to behold, its rune-inscribed length carrying a great deal of power that was not readily apparent.  Many would believe from first sight that it was little more than a white stick, hardly effective as a blade.  That was where they were wrong.  Though it was indeed not as initially useful as a blade or a heavy club it was still more than effective against the creatures of the Dark.

Blessed by the most powerful among their numbers and bound with the energies of which they were so skilled in, the Staff of the Shapers had come to Aliyana much to the amazement of many.  She was still little more than girl, hardly a warrior in the eyes of their people, but her power was such that she was seen as far more than what she appeared.  Like Sivis she was a prodigy, one among their kind who seemed years beyond her ken, an old soul that had emerged within a new form so to speak.  The staff had responded to her touch immediately, its runes flashing with a brilliant silver-blue fire that had caused not even a single blister to raise upon her flesh as she had gripped it fearlessly, accepting the staff with as much humility as was required.

She’d been charged with the capture and ultimately the execution of her former love, the dark lord known as Sivis, whose name would forever more be cursed.  Though she had taken the vow, had indeed agreed to the final measures that would fall upon her shoulders should the dark one prove too powerful, Aliyana’s heart was still heavy.  She did not know if she could be the one who cast the final stroke against the dark one, nor was she certain that she could accept the full charge of what had been given to her.  There was no choice but the one she had accepted however, no matter how much she wished it were not so.

“We’ve found something!”  Aliyana’s head turned as she panned her gaze from the arid landscape in front of her, shielding her eyes briefly against the stabbing sunlight as she saw one of their many allies, an Ellevayne of all things, come bounding towards the group.  They’d traveled farther south than any of them had ever gone, traversing the wooded and untamed hills beyond their home and crossing vast bodies of water in order to reach this area they now stood upon.  There was nothing more than desert to be seen for as far as the horizon could show, but she knew that lush forest existed on the edges of this barren land.  They had come from one after all.

“What is it?” Aliyana asked, her patience wearing dangerously thin as the heat continued to beat down upon them. This land was far too arid for her tastes, she enjoyed the feel of life around her, of the lush forests that lay upon the fringes of her home.  Here there was little more than rock, sand and hardened vegetation that somehow managed to survive the damning heat that baked down from the sky on a daily basis.

The Ellevayne, his name was Taeven she remembered, stopped as he came near, hearing the heavy tone of her voice.  Ellevayne, though immortal like Shapers, were just a bit weaker than Shapers.  Her kind could bend and manipulate both energy and matter to their whims when required, the Ellevayne were composed of that same energy.  If pitted against one another an Ellevayne would be hard pressed to defeat even the weakest among her kind without a fight.

“We ah, we didn’t find, um, you know who.” Aliyana’s gaze hardened as Taevan hurriedly continued, “But we did find where he’s most likely to show up next.”  Her stare grew icy as Aliyana crossed her arms over her chest, her staff held in the crook of her right arm.  Taevan looked to those who stood around and near her, Shapers all, as though for help.  None would be forthcoming she knew, since those who had allied with her in this quest would not side with an Ellevayne against one of their own.  The importance of their quest was far too great to be placed upon a guess.  Unfortunately at this moment that seemed to be all they had to go on.

“If you’ll just come and see I think you’ll agree it’s really something.” Taevan began to move away as he kept his eyes upon Aliyana and the others around her, perhaps thinking that they would strike him down for presenting them with absolutely nothing.  She was not so vindictive, but her temper was short these days and as a result could flare more often than she was used to.  As Aliyana followed after the Ellevayne she motioned for the others to remain behind, wishing that she could simply go home, that Sivis would finally give himself up and realize the havoc he was wreaking upon the world.

Her former lover’s path of devastation had thus far been wide and quite expansive, demolishing entire forests, razing what might have been considered early civilizations and obliterating any trace that they had ever existed.  Aliyana had not wept for a single soul that had fallen to his depravity, though she had felt her heart tear even wider as the rent within her soul deepened with each passing act of such horrid destruction.  This was not their way, they were bound by the will of Creator to keep the precious balance of this realm, to insure that neither chaos nor order consumed the face of this world.  Yet Sivis would so gladly ruin everything to spite those who had done what was dictated as right and just, he would destroy the world to spit in the faces of his own kind.  Still Aliyana could help but be saddened by his loss.

Her graceful strides finally brought her to where Taevan stood near the dark opening of what looked like a natural cavern hewn into the rock, its shadows claiming much of what lay inside after only several feet of visibility.  Even the glaring sunlight did little to offer any further illumination into the hole.  Looking to the Ellevayne she shrugged, shaking her head as though to ask why he had thought this was so interesting.

“Can’t you feel that?”  Taevan asked, his voice becoming a bit more exuberant as he leaned towards the hole.  It was at that moment that Aliyana finally did feel a tingle upon her senses, a feeling she had not experienced since leaving home.  Power, pure and unfiltered, touched upon her being as she stiffened slightly, her eyes closing as she gripped her staff tightly to her bosom, gasping as the influx of energy suddenly raced into her body, alighting upon each nerve in turn as she arched her back, unable to contain it all as spikes of radiating power flowed out from in all directions.

Taevan could not avoid the emanations as he was struck, shaking visibly as the power of the Shaper in front of him overwhelmed his senses momentarily.  The Ellevayne had grudgingly accepted his role among the Shaper’s group, though as he felt the power flow through him in that moment Taevan knew that he was without a doubt in the right place.  Whether or not his kind and the Shapers got along on a regular basis did not matter, he would follow this woman as long as he could and for as long as she would have him.

As the two, Shaper and Ellevayne, opened their eyes once they turned to look behind them, seeing as the sands began to swirl madly, churning as though some force had stirred them to life.  Neither of them moved, watching as several figures took form within the folds of the storm, their silhouettes the only visible aspect of their presence as they moved about in hurried, aggressive motions, attacking and falling away, defending one another, rising and falling with each heartbeat as the two of them watched.

“What is tha-?” Aliyana cut Taevan off suddenly with a raised hand as the storm slowly abated, the swirling sands calming once more as the figures began to fade and then finally diminish, disappearing entirely after several moments as the landscape became the normal, rolling sands once more.

So you reach the wellspring before me. Well done Aliyana, I must confess you win this time.

The sending, a means of communication between Shapers, hit Aliyana like a slap to the face, the putrid odor that assaulted her nostrils almost making her gag as she closed her eyes in revulsion.  Taevan, who could not perform a sending and did not recognize one in progress, had no idea of what afflicted her and as a result could only watch as she straightened up a bit, her eyes opening as he could see a fire within their depths that scared even him.

Enough of this Sivis, she returned, come forth and receive judgment for your crimes.

From you, or from your people? Sivis sneered within her mind.

They are your people as-

            No longer!  The mental barrage that hit her in that moment sent Aliyana reeling as Sivis lashed out with enough force to send the raven-haired Shaper to her knees.  Her grip upon the whitewood staff only strengthened as the runes inscribed along its length began to lick gently with bluish-white flames, offering her warmth and strength against the chilling assault of her former love.

You will fall my dear, perhaps not this day, but when next we meet, you will fall!  Sivis’s voice was a thunderous roar within her mind as Aliyana struggled to focus, gritting her teeth against the lancing pain within her mind that even her staff could not banish.  There was absolutely no way she could gain a bearing on where he was as was normal with any sending, the swirling maelstrom of his anger was simply too great, threatening to swallow her in that moment as she fell to the ground, writhing upon the coarse sand of the valley floor as Taevan could only watch, helpless to do anything.

Farewell for now my dear, I hope you enjoy the company I have sent in advance to welcome you.  Aliyana could barely understand his words, though the menace within them was easily felt as she began to regain control of her senses, rising once more to her knees as her temples throbbed in pain.  How had Sivis grown so powerful?

A deep rumble from beneath her knees alerted Aliyana to something approaching as Taevan’s gaze suddenly went to the tunnel mouth, widening at what he saw.

“Dark and Light, what is-?”  Taevan never got to finish his question as a massive, clawed hand slammed hard into his chest, catapulting him backward through the air, his clothing and chest torn wide open by the wickedly barbed claws that led back into the gnarled, muscular arm of the creature that now emerged from the darkness.  Aliyana glared hard at the daemon, a thing of such pure malice and hatred as to be considered worthy of nothing more than destruction.  Her eyes narrowed in anger as the thing snarled at her, flexing its claws as several pops and cracks could be heard from its many joints.

Its head was little more than a smooth orb, its lower half dominated by jaws that sprouted fangs too numerous to be counted.  The daemon’s eyes were beady points of light within its dun-colored features, soulless chips of ice that regarded her with the worst type of hatred as it stalked closer to her.  Aliyana could hear from behind as those who had been her companions were set upon as well, though she did not dare turn to look.

The daemon in front of her was far too dangerous to turn her back upon, its nearly ten foot height and bulk making it difficult for her to imagine how it had hidden so effectively from both her and Taevan.  That point quickly became moot as it strode forward, the heavily corded muscles of its body rippling as it reached one claw out for Aliyana, seeking to draw her into its deadly embrace. She knew this type of daemon, it was known as a verdugn, or “champion” among its kind.  Within the ranks of daemons there were castes, just as there were with the creatures of the Light know as angels.  The higher the caste, the more distinguished and more powerful the member, which in her current situation did her little good.

Aliyana had learned to fight within her clan, she had learned how to defend herself and how to use the power within her veins to stave away the corruption and aberrations that sought to take root within this world.  But this was a champion, a daemon unlike any she’d ever seen in her life.  Those she had witnessed had been much lesser daemons such as the milikedes, or “soldiers”.  Never before had she borne witness to something so fearsome or so obviously lethal.

Sweeet, sweet meat.  Come to Da’rak sweeet meat.  The creature’s voice invaded her mind like questing tendril of rot, tainting her every thought as Aliyana squirmed under the mental assault, holding tightly to her staff.  The daemon reached out for her, its claws coming closer and closer until they were only a short distance from brushing against her face.  That was when the world seemed to explode.

*                      *                      *

 

30 years later…

 

 

Daemons, Ellevayne, Shapers and angels had scoured the face of the earth, warring with one another in such capacity that their battle had reached even the lowest depths of the Dark and the highest reaches of the Light.  No one had remained completely unscathed from the ensuing war that had spread quickly from the tide that Sivis had enacted.  Aliyana had thought herself dead upon the site that was now known as Echoes Pass, fodder for the daemon that called itself Da’rak, but she had been wrong.

Her staff had come to life then, its divine fires burning with such intensity that they had sprung to life of their own accord, bathing the entire valley in such a rush of light and righteous fire that not a single daemon had escaped.  She knew too well that they were not destroyed, that like the Ellevayne they would find a new form, but for the time being she and the others had been saved.  Taevan’s wounds had been mended, though the lives of three of her companions had been ended before she had acted.  The burden of this still lay heavy upon Aliyana’s heart even after the passing of three decades of little more than continual war.

The races of Shapers and Ellevayne had become divided slowly after the fiasco at Echoes Pass, each race experiencing the damning schism that had divided their peoples so effectively.  Aliyana had remained true to her heart as she had stood against the darkness time and time again, never once forsaking the duty she had been born with and was bound to uphold.  Taevan had nearly followed several of his kind to the side of the Dark, but in the end had decided upon exile instead.  Many others had gone this route as well, choosing to not choose as they placed themselves as far away from the war as possible.

That day in Echoes Pass Aliyana had felt something within her heart stir, a feeling of such purpose as she had never felt before.  Images had come to her mind then, faint, fleeting things that were there and then gone within moments, far too quick for her to hold onto.  She could still catching glimpses of them within her mind, but they were gone even as she looked upon them, as though to gaze upon the visions for even a breath was too long.  She was still greatly confused by the many things she had seen, though within her heart and her mind was the sadness that she had carried with her for the past three decades, the unwavering agony of what had eventually become of her race.

Seated upon a large, cold rock that overlooked the span of water in front of her Aliyana closed her eyes, damning her former lover even as she pined for him still.  Why could she not hate the man?  Sivis had done nothing more than destroy everything they had once held dear, laying waste to entire swaths of countryside to further his own twisted ends.  He had done this for spite, for hatred and for nothing more than the sick, manic glee that it brought him.  He had become a monster, no longer the man she had once loved.  So why could she not bring herself to hate him?

Idly fingering a small bauble around her neck, a red pearl that Sivis had given her, Aliyana closed her eyes, looking for one of the visions she’d seen yet again.  She was upon this same stretch of land, a rough footpath carved by the passage of many feet into the side of the mountain at her back, but it was not as it appeared now.  Instead of the mountain face extending to the water line as it nearly did, there was a large swath of black that snaked around the face of the mountain, close to the water.  Along this strange black surface there were several markings, dashes and curving lines that she could not decipher.  They were in no language she knew of, nor were they any type of rune she could recognize, yet she found herself believing that they were of some importance.

Rocks, boulders much like the one she sat upon, lined the river, elevated several yards up from the lapping waves.  Across the river she could just make out the forested hillside, its lush trees and thick scrub having sprouted among them several strange structures that Aliyana could not understand.  Her vision panned slowly to the left, taking in the strange appearance of a vibrant green and dull, gray-colored structure that lay in many crumbling pieces along the width of the river, as though it had been broken long ago.  Tendrils of moss and other bits of vegetation hung upon the many separate pieces of the structure, attesting to how long it must have been sitting in its current position.

You did this to us, a voice spoke within her mind.

Aliyana’s gaze panned quickly to the right, seeking the owner of the voice as she was startled for just the barest of moments.  She saw a form standing upon one of the rocks not far away from her, a dark cloak pulled about its features as a raised cowl hid away the stranger’s features.  She did not reply save for to rise to her feet, using one end of her staff to steady herself upon the slick surface of the boulder.

Who are you, and where am I? she asked, trying to sound in control of the current situation.  In truth her heart was fluttering in her chest like a trapped bird, screaming to get out.

You are in the now, the then and what lies between.  As you taught me, so it will come to pass.  The words made no sense to her as Aliyana frowned.  Taught?  Who had she ever taught?  She’d still been a student when the war had begun, barely able to hold her own within a fight.  Who was this person?

You didn’t answer my question, Aliyana challenged.  The figure did not turn as a gust of wind brushed against its cloak, fluttering it just enough to outline the masculine form of the stranger.  So it was a he, her heart fluttered just a bit as he considered that it might be Sivis she was talking to.  But no, she would know her former lover, wouldn’t she?

I answered half your question, Lady of Mists.  You must wait for the other half, for all will come in its time and place.

The vision began to recede as Aliyana listened, her eyes widening as she tried to hold onto what was there, not wishing to be left with such a cryptic and rather vague statement as the stranger’s only parting words.

Wait! she cried, Tell me who you are!  Please tell me! The desperation in her voice would have disgusted her at any other time, though now Aliyana could not help but let her emotions run forth as she attempted to halt the receding vision, seeking more answers than questions.  As the silence of the fading dream continued the figure turned, his eyes the only thing visible within the darkness of his hood as Aliyana gasped.  She could see his eyes, deep, dark pools of such blackness that it hurt almost to look at.  Throughout each orb ran strange, silvery mists that defied anything she’d ever known in her life.  Who was this man?

I am the Champion, last of the Chosen.   I damn you Aliyana of the Shapers,  I damn you Lady of the Mists, and I salute you.  Aliyana couldn’t breathe in that moment as she looked into the dark eyes of the stranger, her mind awhirl with the confusion that had suddenly been thrust against her conscious thoughts.  There was nothing in that moment as she suddenly felt herself descending, fading from the edges of the vision like an errant thought.

Her eyes opened as she found herself seated still upon the large rock that overlooked the water, the red pearl still between her fingers.  Aliyana’s heart was rocked to its core, though it had not yet become stone, not yet.  Even with the decimation of her race, even when they had enacted their last, most desperate plan of the Joining, she had not turned inward, preferring to live her life much in the same way she always had, as the free-spirited girl she had always been and always wished to be.  Raising her head to the winds she felt as they ran their delicate fingers through her long black locks, closing her eyes as the gentle breeze played across her skin.

The sensation of decay, corruption and rot reached her only moments later, announcing the presence of the one whom she’d been waiting for.  As she opened her eyes Aliyana was somehow able to draw strength from the most recent of her visions, finding it somehow bolstering as she thought of the stranger’s words.

I damn you Lady of the Mists, and I salute you.  Closing her eyes once more Aliyana inhaled through her nostrils, opening her eyes again as she turned to face what must be done.  She would perform the duty that had been given her, damned or not.  For her people, for all those who had been lost, she would forsake her love.  The scales would balance, she would make sure of it.

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