Prologue - Transform
Behlenas’ body was that of an old man. He wasn’t sure exactly how old he was, only that he had been here thousands of sil’hna and resented every moment of it. He was here in this goddess forsaken place before the first queen of Alhanassa had been born! He had watched countless queens grow old and pass away and he had hated them, just as he hated all women. It was a woman’s fault he was here; he was sure of it! A need burned away in his cold heart. The need to destroy the people of this world and to drive them from their homes, as he had been banished from his, was now his only desire. Even though his magic was strong he still needed his beast to carry out the demanding labour. His lips curved into a sinister smile. Watching how this new creation could spread devastation warmed the cold reaches off his frozen heart. Why make this quick when he can sit back and watch their world fall apart, slowly?
He looked over the outcropping of rock to the mass of wolves sleeping peacefully below. His earlier task of luring them into the dead-end had been successful. Stupid beasts, he thought, but not for long. A few looked injured, the usual fighting for the bait had taken place but once he had spun his magic, their injuries would be healed. The deer carcasses had been devoured, only a few broken bones remained.
The climb to his favourite work spot was too difficult without help, his equipment was far too heavy. The decrepit state of his body had forced him to make use of the villagers; why not, he was their creator, a fact that he chose to keep from them. Scratching his bare chest, Behlenas turned to the man beside him. The muscles in the serf’s arms flexed as he worked, lean legs anchored him to the ground and the sight of the man in his early adulthood elicited a ripple of jealousy through him. It reminded Behlenas of life before his worldly banishment. Where Tarn’s hair was blonde and curled at his nape, his had been jet black and reached his waist. Now it looked thinner, grey, with black still streaking his temples.
Tarn was busy unpacking the needed equipment from the cart. Leaving the serf to perform the task, Behlenas eased himself onto the cool grass that edged the outcropping. His thoughts drifted over his latest plan and the events that drove him to his actions. Flashes of memory from a life he could not fully remember fuelled his hatred for all people of this world.
Alhanassa was his punishment. For what, he could not fully recall, however he did know his punishment came from a divine source. Looking up towards the sun, Bodelia, he scoffed and shook his head. He knew the people of this world named the sun after their most high goddess, they were all for symbolism and worship. A low sound almost like a growl escaped his throat. He hated it all. Well, did she think this heat would punish him? Not during the cold weather of the Imbhane cycle, it wouldn’t. Cloud cover gave the sun a hazy glow and the cold defused the heat as Bodelia shone down on Alhanassa. The air held a thick, ash taste that came from the volcano at the heart of his island home. It had been spewing ash and sparks into the sky for a few days now, even reaching this small island where he collected his beasts. He had not seen any volcanic activity for a long time.
This world had rotated around the sun many a thousand times since he was banished. He thumped the side of his head with the heel of one gnarled hand, why could he not remember everything? He allowed himself to be lost in his reflections as Tarn still struggled with the equipment.
Where was he? Oh yes… the rotation of this rotten, radical ridden world. Sil’hna was the word the Alhanassii people called one rotation, each of the three moons having only one cycle during that time. Even the moons and those cycles were named after those dammed Goddesses! Was there no end to the idolatry? Oh, how his vengeance would put doubt into the minds of these foolish people.
That’s why his plan was such an exceptional idea. The only problem was creating a beast with the right qualities. He had been working on this plan far too long. In fact, when he had hatched this great plan it had been the last time the volcano had erupted. See, his mind wasn’t as slow as he sometimes thought. He had all the time in the world and given how many times he had failed to create a beast with sufficient viciousness, he was glad patience was one godly attribute he still possessed.
Tarn sat down close to him, pulled the water skin from the cart and looked to Behlenas for approval. Behlenas nodded and held out his hand for his own skin. His body ached, he was tired but the coming storm would give him the power to do his magic. Watching his formidable handiwork walk from the cavern below on hind legs, their front legs transformed into strong arms, always gave his body a needed boost of adrenalin. He would stand tall when the magic he employed gave strength to his weary bones. His heart pounded with anticipation, he looked forward to that time and it would be soon. Already the cloud cover had become heavy and laden with the power he needed.
Over the sil’hna his creations had driven fear into the people of Alhanassa. Their magic could no longer counteract his, not since the Great Divide, when Bodelia had split the magic between factions. Now, those factions grew stronger but their magic was diluted. They had become two separate peoples. Those that followed Princess Leila had headed to the eastern hemisphere where her people flourished. They are peaceful, passive, only fighting when needed. Their love of the land and anything Bodelia created made him sick. However, those who had followed Princess Torlia still occupied the western hemisphere and what was once the seat of the Alhanassii queens. They were more like him, their queen’s had a malevolent, cold-blooded spirit that nurtured the ideal that Alhanassa was theirs for the taking.
The divide had worked to Behlenas’ advantage. That had been around a thousand sil’hna ago and he was slowly causing havoc amongst them. Between the two great nations of Leilan and Torlan lay the Free Isles. Neither queen could ever lay claim to them, due to the protection of The most high goddess Bodelia and her three sisters, who ruled the moons. He thought them fools. They’d made the isles an easy target for his beasts’ debut. They were the entrée, he couldn’t wait for the main course.
Calhean, the second largest of the Free Isles, would be his first conquest. His beasts already occupied the more northern isles. The population on them had been sparse, only one or two settlements. Gladly, it was enough to keep a few survivors to experiment on. Their blood had interesting properties indeed; it was the vital part of his compound. Behlenas looked over to the cart and his lip twitched at the sight. The unique ingredient needed to turn the wolves into his beasts had been at his fingertips for so long. The people’s feeble attempts to rid themselves of his creations made him laugh. No, until they knew his secret he was free to rain havoc and annihilation on their heads.
A bellowed laugh left his lips causing the serf to stop his work. Tarn’s green eyes studied him, there was a quiet strength in the his gaze; Behlenas took a moment to glare at him before sending the man back to his work.
No one had the right to judge him.
Tarn paced, a crack of thunder broke overhead sending the hairs on his arms and neck up right. Bright blue forks of lightening reached for the cold earth of the small island. The large group of wolves’ stirred below, deep growls rumbled around the cavern as he stood above. Tarn sat, hugged his knees and tried to calm his thumping heart. The mood of the restless occupants below weighted his soul. He didn’t want to see the animals turned into depraved beasts that would do the master’s bidding but what option did he have? He may only be young but he had been chosen to be the leader of the village because he was the strongest and most dominant. It was his place to protect them and save them from this terrible work. With a heavy sigh, Tarn stood, dusted the dirt off his breeches and went back to work.
The master stood much taller than he had moments ago, the storm somehow gave him strength. Lifting the hefty vials of fluid Tarn emptied them to a large cauldron. It was always the sickly yellow one first, then the red. He hated the vials. Not only were they heavy but the liquid in one looked and smelled like blood. He knew nothing of magic, only what he saw the master do, even the beasts had a little knowledge. Once the cauldron was full, the master brought fire to his hands and set the wood alight. Tarn covered his face with a thick knitted scarf, which had been wrapped around his neck to keep out the cold. The stench made his stomach lurch. The trick was to not inhale the vapour that drifted from the cauldron. Tarn was ordered to begin working the wooden handles of the great billows. Reluctantly, he leaned over and began to push hard. A dark red haze spewed from the nozzle and drifted towards the edge of the rocks.
The cloud was not close enough, forcing Tarn to move the cart nearer to the edge. Every muscle in his body strained as he pushed. The wheels groaned and the fluid in the cauldron shifted causing the whole thing to slip backwards. A punishing blast from the master’s magic sent a shock through Tarn’s shoulder. The pain, though unbearable, spurred him on as he tried to push the cart into place.
“STOP!” With a easy lift of his hand, Behlenas sent wooden blocks under the wheels to keep it in place. Tarn fell to the ground, heaving for breath. A kick in his ribs brought his attention back to the bellows. With a heavy heart and an aching body he resumed his work, closing his eyes he concentrated on the job at hand.
More lightening cracked overhead. Tarn opened his eyes and watched Behlenas lift an orb high above his head. He hated that orb. At the moment it was a dark red that matched the haze drifting over the wolves below them. The lightening struck, drawn to the orb. Sparks and lines of blue energy flew off in every direction. Moving the orb in front of him, Behlenas began a dreadful chant. Not understanding the words did not stop the feeling of utter dread filling Tarn’s heart. The language his master used for his magic sounded poetic and refined. How could words these beautiful words bring so much chaos?
A noise from below signalled the start of the transformation. Howls, snarls and yelps of pain, the sound of bones breaking and skin ripping filled the air. Tarn dared himself to look over the edge of the rocks to the cavern below. Sighing in relief, he moved away. There was not much to see, other than a red cloud filled with blue lightening. Behlenas stopped his chant. The orb was placed on the floor of the cart then wrapped in a blanket. As usual Tarn was dismissed, sent to the small jetty to ready their sail boat.
The red smoke began to clear. Behlenas stood on the ridge, looking down at the tips of ears and long pointed muzzles that began to peek through the haze. Black, confused eyes looked around. Thick muscled shoulders and upper arms now came into view. Strong chests covered in wiry hair. The beast’s skin had a dark leathery look, the colour of charcoal. The dark grey hair that once covered them, now dusted only a small portion of their newly shaped bodies. Their lower half still like that of a wolf with hind legs strong and able to pounce and run. Their abilities out performed any Alhanassii male. One beast pushed another, the claws on the end of its huge hands dug into the muscles in the upper arm of another beast. Snarls erupted and teeth were bared.
“RAX!” Behlenas shouted at the beasts to stop. Within his potion making and spell casting he had given the beasts the intelligence to carry out basic task and orders, the forbidden language was all they understood.
“SILU ESI!” Commanding them to hear him, Behlenas began to chant. Their black, blank eyes all focused on Behlenas. They turned to face him in unison, the sound of the chant causing the beasts to sway as the magic embedded into their minds, the air around them charged with power and magic. Behlenas stopped his chant but didn’t stop the evil grin spreading over his face while he watched his new consignments turn and begin to march away. “Ritt duva.” He pointed to a pair of the beasts close to the rear. They turned together and cast their eyes to the ground, as if unable to meet their new master’s gaze. “Ny’a esi.” They obeyed, and began to follow him towards the cart.
Sitting on the ledge that covered the front axle, Behlenas waited for his beasts to clear away the equipment. Once done, they both took one of the shafts of the cart and began to quickly walk down the slope to a dirt track. From the instructions he had sent to their minds, they followed the track, picking up speed as Bodelia quietly fell behind the trees. Soon it would be dark and the temperature would drop. Behlenas wanted to be back on his own island by then. “Tatas.” The beasts obeyed him once again and quickened their steps.
The sun had set by the time Behlenas woke Tarn from where he rested on the floor of the boat. He scurried backwards to take the small boat’s rudder. Two over-sized beasts accompanied the master. Their eyes began to glow and pulse as they approached where the orb had been placed, wrapped in a blanket in the bottom of the boat. The cart had been placed in a shed along with the bellows. The vials, now empty, clattered together as the boat gently rocked. Tarn watched the beasts. They sat with their long arms on their laps, their claws sharp, canines dripped with drool. Tarn noticed they had lost their grey and white fur, their skin darkened with a leathery look. Only a few patches of fur remained, on their heads and down their backs. They had no tails, Tarn thought; was that because they would find sitting as a man impractical with a tail? He shook his head at the line of thinking.
Taking a deep breath, Tarn sat up straight and looked the larger one in the eye. These wolves needed to know he was a leader. He wouldn’t cower in front of them; they would smell no fear coming from him. Yet, what they could do to him wasn’t worth dwelling on. A low growl emitted from his throat. Both beasts glared at him for what seemed like hours, then dropped their gaze to the floor. Tarn gripped the rudder until his knuckles turned white, thoughts of freeing his village from the master filling his mind.
Once back on Burning Isle, Tarn watched Behlenas and his two beasts head towards the fort and the buildings within its wooden walls. Tarn knew the other beasts had been sent to wait for orders. How the master controlled them he knew not, he didn’t care to know. All he wanted was to quietly live his life, simple as it was. His mate and children, his farm and friends, that’s what was important in life. However, he knew the next time Behlenas needed more beasts he would come for one of his people. He would volunteer to go, not willing to subject one of his pack to the humiliation of watching their ancestors distorted into hideous fiends with a lust for human flesh.
From within the main building of the fort, Behlenas began to draw up his battle plans. It would be soon, very soon. He would need the magic within his orb to regain its power once again. A raid was needed. A raid that would bring him fresh blood to strengthen the orb. The three clear crystals that lay on the table before him gave him images of locations around Alhanassa. The first was to the camp where his beasts prepared for war. The second was a small fishing settlement in the north of Calhean. Suitable candidates for a donation of their blood could be seen, milling around their village. The third crystal gave him the image of the three moons of Alhanassa. The Imbhane moon shone brightly from her place at the front. This was the coldest of cycles, one that brought an end to the sil’hna. Looking over Imbhane’s shoulders, were her sisters. Lithna, who was now resting from giving Alhanassa the splendour of a bountiful harvest. And Ostar, who would be preparing for the new sil’hna and the bringing of life. Ironic really, he thought to himself. Ironic that by the time the Ostar moon would shine, Alhanassa would never be the same again!!
One of the crystals caught his eye, he stared into its prisms and widened his smile. A ship, in the desert? Interesting. The image changed again and water shimmered around a boat approaching his island. A woman stood looking out to sea, a crystal held in her hand, only a black silhouette against the brightness of the future. He rubbed his stubbly chin. Seeing the future always left him feeling cynical, the images of things to come could always change, often to his disadvantage. What this woman with a seer’s crystal wanted would come to light sooner or later. For now, he covered the crystals and left to find something good to eat, with the knowledge that fresh blood would come to him for a change.