Chapter 3: Born Again
The bright purple flash had gone as fast as it came. Like a powerful wave, seemingly rushing through every obstacle, it covered Mara’s entire vision with nothing but blazing light. She rubbed her eyes, hoping it would stop the aching. The sides of her head were sore, as was most of her body. Whatever that wave had been, it seemed to only harm, not maim. She looked down at her body, checking shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and feet. None had markings or scratches. Her vision, however, had not fully returned to normal. She could clearly make out her hands, and the soft yellow fabric of her tunic. As well as her dark brown hair that was braided to hang across her right shoulder. What she could not see clearly was everything else. The walls, floors, and ceilings seemed to be vague, as if seen through a rippling water surface. The carpets on the floors looked blurry, with the finer details smudged away under a constantly moving current. The colours were strange as well. The small plant to her side looked rather blue, and the moon outside had an ominous red glow to it. She looked at herself once more. Perfectly sharp, with true colours. I’ll have to see a medicine-man about this, she determined. A very good one.
Luckily, the long hallway she was standing in was one she knew well. Standing in one of the many hallways that mazed through the western side of King’s Fort, Mara thought of what she had been doing before the flash appeared. I found the old supply room. Found a lantern. Tried to find my brother, and then… The lantern she had held moments ago was no besides her on the ground. Having dropped it in favour of holding her hands in front of her eyes, the beautiful lantern now stood on its little legs within arm’s reach. To Mara’s surprise, the lantern was visible as clearly as herself. She shook her head. “Something is wrong,” she told herself. “Hello, can anyone help me?”
The silence that returned her call was discomforting. The keep never felt this empty, nor did it ever look so gloomy. Staying close to the lantern, the only other light source besides the creepy moon light, she thought of where to go. My brother should be waiting in one of these rooms. The keep was massive, but she knew it well, working as a servant for the last three years. Normally, she would not have time to idly stroll along forgotten storage rooms. Today, however, was an exceptions. On this day, her brother would sneak in and visit her. She was not allowed to have guests within the keep, so stealth was required. Ever since they were old enough to climb, they had found ways to enter Cloud Fields to gaze at the yellow walls of King’s Fort. In truth, she had taken this job solely so that she could see King’s Fort every single day – the few coppers she made to buy food also weren’t bad, of course.
Today was autumn’s crest. The Feast of Forgiveness. One of the biggest festivals the city of Mailon knew. The keep would be packed with fancy folk, and even the guards would be in a happier mood. Work kept Mara and her brother apart for most of every week, and she was always worried that he would be doing something dangerous when she wasn’t around. That thought brought dark notions along with it; if I was hit by some strange purple wave, what had happened to him? She ran to the nearest door. He should be here somewhere. Taking hold of the hazy shape – assumed to be a doorknob – felt strange. Like grabbing a handful of pudding, except here she was the pudding and the doorknob was the hand. She nearly reared back at the touch, but worries of her brother kept her going forward. She yanked hard, but the door did not budge. Strange. There is no lock on this door. She knew that even though she could not have made out such a detail in her current state. She also remembered this room having two entries. Taking a few steps back, to look around the corner, gave her view of a partially open door. She strode over purposefully, the stone floor beneath her feet feeling sickly to the touch. Suddenly she was hauled back. A feeling like being hit with a cudgel in the stomach halted her in her place – not that she had ever experienced such a thing, but it was hard to imagine being worse than this. Falling to the floor, her hands touched the ever-moving surface of the ground beneath, a nauseating sense rushed through her body. Catching her breath, she searched for whatever she had walked into. The headache made it hard to focus. To her surprise, the hallway was as empty as before. With the odd red moon-glow, she could make out nearly everything here, even if it was all ambiguous.
She stood up, testing the ground in front of her. Slowly she took a step, and again she was held back. This time she could clearly make out the feeling, as if a rope was tied around her waist, holding her back. Instinctively she checked her waist, but found no such thing. Looking behind she noticed the slither of thread hanging in the air. Thinner than a spider’s web. It reflected the light – not the blood-red moonlight, but some soft yellow light. She tried to grab it, but her hand went straight through. Her eyes followed the threat towards her, leading straight to her belly. It seemed to be coming from her. Hands pressed hard against her mouth, she felt like vomiting. Scared of what she might find, she followed the threat with her eyes, this time away from her. It was hard to follow, as it danced in the soft breeze, but she could eventually make out where it ended. The lantern. Taken aghast, she fell on her back, kicking and crawling herself backwards, trying to get away from the string. But it tuck hard at her. Every push she gave was like ripping the skin her belly. She felt like heaving.
Eventually she gave in. Lying on the ground, she tried to calm herself. Focusing on her breathing helped. What would my brother do if he were here? The lantern still stood unmoved. I could take it with me, she concluded. The lantern was not far away, but she could not bring herself to stand up and walk. Instead, she crawled across the oily thick floor, towards the motionless lantern. The lantern looked so pleasant when first she saw it lying in a storage room nearby. It held a thick layer of dust, and was hidden behind other strange objects. Most of which, she assumed, were gifts given to the King that were eventually discarded and forgotten. Somehow the lantern intrigued her. I wish it never had. The lantern displayed marvelous images on it, and it even felt warm to the touch when she took it, though it wasn’t lit. How come the lantern was lit now? Before she could finished the thought, she reached the lantern, and, after gathering some courage, grabbed hold of one of the handles. Luckily it did not feel as bleary as everything else she touched. It did feel heavier though. Heavier than when she carried it the first time. Much heavier. Too heavy to lift, or even move. She pushed and pulled, but did not manage to move the lantern at all. The gathered courage fleeted, and she slumped down beside the lantern. Stuck to a lantern, by some intangible string, in a keep made of sickly moving stone. I must be dreaming. A true nightmare. Curling up into a ball-shape, she hugged the lantern for what little warmth it gave off, waiting for her brother to find her – or anyone for that matter.
After what seemed like hours had past, she finally heard noises other than those she made herself. Someone was moving nearby. She listened carefully, with her ear pressed against the feeble stone floor. Faint footsteps were audible from the room she tried to reach before. Maybe it is my brother, she hoped. It must be! Letting go of the lantern, Mara jumped up. The lantern seemed to flicker brighter, matching her excitement. A few more moments and I’ll be saved. A dim glow became visible from within the room, shining into the hallway through the half-opened door. A hand reach out, taking hold of the door-frame. The hand was glowing. Mara rubbed her eyes. The blueish light illuminated the floor and walls around the door-frame. Then the rest of the body reach through the gap, and entered the hallway. The glow surrounding the entire body. “Brother? Hello?” She said carefully. It looks like my brother. The features were as vague as the rest of the world around her, and although the glow was a pleasant sight in the dreary surroundings, it did not help make out the finer details.
The shining person moved towards her. Uplifted by the presence of someone else – even though she couldn’t see the figure clearly in her current state – Mara jolted forward, arms wide. Jumping in for a hug she felt like crying. “I’m so happy to finally see someone else! Do you have any idea what is going on? Did you see the bright purple flash? Is your vision alright?” The questions trailed off in her own mouth, as she noticed the figure did not hug her in return. In fact, the figure did not seem to notice. It spun around, swinging her hard enough that she was almost flung off. She let go hesitantly. The figure moved towards the lantern, slowly. “Can you hear me? See me? Hello!” The last came out as a scream. I have been laying here forever, trapped, and now that someone has finally arrived, i am unable to make myself known. The figure kept walking, and ended up crouched besides the lantern, one hand reaching for it. When it was picked up, Mara felt life rushing through her. The intense sensation of emotions rushing through the string that connected her to the lantern. The lantern mimicked the glow of its wielder, and the string danced eagerly between the two of them. It is my brother! She did not know how she knew. But somehow the fusion of emotions rushing into her mind convinced her that her brother was holding the lantern. His doubts, his courage, his sense of determination. It all rushed through her.
Mara walked up close behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder. He did not seem to notice, nor was she even able to make him turn around and face her. They walked together for a while, her eyes never leaving his bright shape. Eventually he stopped. She felt fear rushing into her mind, not her fear, but that of her brother. He was looking at a statue. The details looked vague to her once again, but it had somehow startled him. She did not know how, with the red glowing moonlight all around it was hard to be caught off guard by anything. The fear subsided, and he kept on moving. Mara followed closely behind, until something else caught her attention. The soft glow that was coming from her brother was present elsewhere, as well. A large source- no, two sources similar in size. They are at the end of the hallway we came from. They seemed to move slowly. One slouched forward, the other walking upright, with broad shoulders and a steadfast pose. Both were making their way toward them, until one halted, pointing at something. Mara looked over towards her brother, to see his reaction, but found him lying on the floor. She had not heard him fall over, nor did she hear much else besides the gentle breeze flowing past her. She looked over once more, to the shapes in the distance – who at this point were not so distant anymore. One was carrying a large object in his hand, running towards her. It darted past her, shouldering her aside, to pick up her brother by his collar. She tried to stop it from happening, but all her pushes and punches had as little effect as the breeze would have. Powerlessly she looked as the figure lifted up her brother, angrily looming over him. They seemed to be exchanging words, yet she could hear none.
It lasted but a moment, until the looming figure pushed her brother before him, as they started to move down the hallway. The third figure, that had kept its distance for a while, now joined them. From up close Mara could make out that the figure was indeed walking with a cane – someone of old age she suspected, like a granny. The three figures darted past her, as she wordlessly complained. Why can’t they hear or see me? Why can’t I let my presence be known? The wordless questions abruptly ended as she thread tightened as the distance between her and the lantern became greater. Her brother was still holding it, with two shapes close at his back. The threat tightened fully, and Mara once again felt a strong pull at the skin on her stomach. Throbbing pain rushed through her body, as she was pulled along. Rushing to keep up with the fast moving group, she felt the agony over and over again. Each time she fell short of catching up. Along hallways, down stairs, and through doorways. They stopped whenever hallways crossed, yet never long enough for Mara to catch up. Still half dragged across the floor, she managed to catch her breath only when they halted completely after passing the half-closed portcullis.
The pain was slowly dwindling, as she stood still next to the three glowing figures, panting with pain. She straightened herself despite the ache, and found a sight more terrifying that she had ever seen before. The blood red moon seemed almost cheerful in comparison to the crimson tower of clouds rising up from the distance mountain ranges in the north. Lightning creaked within it, sending waves of flame through the sky. At the base was a pitch black mountain, with rivers of liquid fire brimming from its top. This cannot be real. It was a mountain she had not ever seen before. Neither had she ever seen something as massive as that horrible pillar of scorching smoke. The sky was filled with red stars and a red moon, spreading an eerie glow across the city. A city that should be brewing with people, but instead stood in complete silence. It seemed even the birds had abandoned it. Southwards she saw mountains flooded by black rivers. A dire sight that made her want to flee. As murky as her vision was within the keep, she could now see clearly all mountains within sight. And upon the southward mountain ranges of Seabreaker Cliffs was an army. She could see it as clear as her hands. An army moving like a blanket of shadows. Into the valley, and towards Mailon. Towards her.