Stillness in Blight Lagoon
Underneath the Blight Lagoon, VeiledMaxim appears in a blur; slowly gaining shape and weight as every grain of his existence is poured into this new plane.
I didn’t expect Paraiso to be damp, cold, and dark. Father, have you forsaken me? He thinks as he fights to get his eyes used to the environment. For a moment, he seems to be in a yawning space suspended somehow between hazy stone and water.
“This is not where the dead go, soft-skin child. It is my home.” The voice emanates from two huge gems at the far side of the cavern, onyx in color and glistening like the night sky.
VeiledMaxim finally blinks enough to adjust to the dwelling’s soft blue light, which spills from luminescent plants clustered in the water and parts of the cavern walls. The air he breathes is as pure and refreshing as cold spring water.
He manages to focus clearly on the talking gems, which reveal themselves to be eyes attached to an ancient dragon-turtle’s head, colossal in size. Its body lies submerged in the deep waters, out of sight.
“You have come here to harvest the shining plants, have you not?” the ancient one asks. “You need not lie. Truly, you cannot hide your intentions from me if you tried. I know you mean my existence no harm.”
“We speak, yet my mouth does not move. Are we speaking in my mind?” the young lord asks, dodging the question.
“We are neither in your mind nor mine. We are simply speaking directly into the universe we share. Besides, making noise is such a waste of energy, child.” The dragon-turtle raises itself from the water a few more feet, rippling blue light against the walls.
“Others call me the Great Mother,” she declares evenly. “Welcome to my home, VeiledMaxim, though your title means nothing here. To answer your next question, no, it was not me who brought you here, but someone greater.
“Though let us speak of something else. I receive too few visitors, and none quite so intriguing.” She speaks lightly now as if to set aside formalities.
“Aaah… Your knowledge is beyond my understanding, old one.” He pauses, caught off-guard and fumbling to gather his thoughts, an unfamiliar feeling.
“There are no wrong questions, do not fret. I would not wish to anger the One you serve,” the Great Mother says fondly. “Indeed, you are also free to take the shining plant, as much as you may need. No one has claim to it. It has bloomed to serve all living things, from insects to My-folk.
“I only ask that you entertain me with a conversation. Perhaps of the other children, I have seen you traveling with? You may start with that noble-blooded warrior, the she-elf.”
“It seems that even with my training, I can hide nothing from you,” he answers guardedly, a hint of reluctance in his voice.
The Great Mother sends him a vision of a smile, a jest, almost a grin; a flurry of experiences felt but not seen. VeiledMaxim blinks then gives an answering smile, relieved and honest.
“I admit the princess has caught my eye, but it seems I have a long way to go to regain her trust,” he says with a slight shrug, before meeting the dragon-turtle’s gaze again. “How amazing that even a being like you is still intrigued by something as trivial and mortal as attraction.”
A deep echoing rattle vibrates the cavern, but it was light-hearted in nature it was laughter he thought.
“Answer just a few more of my questions, child. Then I shall show you the way to her village.”
There is a sudden pause, and VeiledMaxim frowns slightly as the Great Mother seems to stare clear through him. She blinks once, slow and solemn when she continues, “But know this, child. Your love will be unfounded since her soul is intertwined with your brother’s, and not yours.”
“I can only advise you to try to find solace in this certainty, that your soul may know peace until you are finally permitted into your Deity’s embrace.”
The lapis-lit cavity within the depths of the earth is silent, broken by occasional, soft breaths, or the falling of droplets rippling into crystalline water, and earth rattling vibrations that is her laughter.
After the flurry and noise of battle, the jungles of Ma’Nyla ring instead with stillness. Neither the fallen nor the gasping victors move for a long moment, clinging to whatever respite is granted them.
“Where is your lord, Kofe?!” PiercingGaze jars the living, making her voice heard again.
“He is no longer with us, princess,” Kofe solemnly replies.
“Show me the body, or you force me to hunt him down with a party of my own!”
The guardian knows it is no mere threat. Her eyes are a symbol of oath and rage. He replies sternly, his tone an unspoken request for calm, “My lord is still with the living. Though where he is, I cannot say. I simply do not know.”
“It is true, mistress,” IvorySting speaks up slowly, almost loathe to take Kofe’s side. “The city elf seemed to dissolve before his life could be taken. It was like witnessing smoke carried off by the wind.”
“Then we must make haste to return to our tribe. Enough of our way-watchers are nearby to escort us to safety,” PiercingGaze looks towards the outsiders, and her next words are not a request. “Get ready to move. You and Jojo are coming with us.”
The warrior turns and makes it a fair amount of steps before she collapses. Though Jojo had protected her from most of it, the wisp of the legend’s poison still burns in her wound. Her vision blurs as obscured objects race towards her, muffled voices echoing nearby.
This is not her first fall into this kind of darkness. Her prayer as always is simply to see the light green hues of the morning again. I still have a score to settle. Her last thought.
True to her word, the Great Mother guides her visitor out of the cavern, pouring into his mind the steps and long swim ahead. “The dark pool shall lead you out, below the falls of the Punong Sangre tribe. However, know that you are to be tested, pushed to your limits. Still, I am hopeful of your victory in this trial.”
“Old one, thank you for what you have taught me. I enjoyed our conversation very much. May we meet again in eternity, friend,” he says, turning and walking resolutely ahead. Then quietly, almost to himself rather than the Great Mother, he admits, “My confidence does not lie on my talent, but more so on my God. So be hopeful for my sake, but do not be saddened if I fail.”
His prayer was solemn and honest, his breath was deep and hopeful, his attention focused both on mind and body. He dives headfirst into tar-black waters and holds his breath.
“Old one?” he asks without speaking, but no one answers. He swims.
He can see little beyond bubbles and darkness, but his very mind is assaulted. He does not know which way is up or down calmness takes over him; his mental defenses, walls so proudly built, crack under the pressure of death. His lungs scream for new breath, yet he knows there is none to take. He is grasping for anything but finds only pain.
All he has trained for, all he has built is crumbling. This is beyond me, he realizes, his thoughts tangled, in desperation, he calls out. Father!
Like the envisioned smile from his new friend, an answer that is experienced echoes through his pain-stricken existence. But it was no mere experience but an understanding of guidance.
The blue lights from shining plants pierce the veil of the ebony plane, their luminescence pulsing like beating hearts, it draws him closer he does not see his hands only the light. His body convulses from lack of air. Father, I want to live! Save me!
A second light swells into the pinpricks of blue, green in color, striking him with surprise then renewed strength. His God answers. VeiledMaxim’s face bursts through the surface, and his first breath is of thanksgiving.
He looks around to find himself in warm, freshwater, stirred to pulsing waves by a powerful waterfall. It reminds him of seaside summers by the citadel cities he loves. He notices he cannot see the opening he passed through, but simply gathers himself to wade toward the bank.
Far from the battlefield, but still feeling every bloody step they have taken from it, three lizardfolk slip through the shadows of enemy territory. The one leading walks slowly, stubbornly pursuing his prey, while the middle supports the last, who limps from her grievous wounds.
“What happened was impossible!” the middle one hisses, shifting more of SpearTongue’s weight onto her shoulder. “There has never been an account of two ancient cold-ones joining their pack on a hunt. Our gods and ancestors cursed this hunt from the start.”
“Do not speak such nonsense! Gods and ancestors?!” roars CopperTongue to all that remains of his hunting party. “They do not control my hunt, and they do not hold my life! StormFang’s and the others’ sacrifice shall not be in vain! We shall push on! Or do you intend to challenge my leadership?”
“Still personal glory,” the warrior sneers, stopping sharply and simply watching CopperTongue continue to stalk ahead. “Is that all that can escape your maw? Can you not see your sister is on the verge of passing?” She turns to meets the young tracker’s weary gaze.
As the leader finally notices the delay, the warrior gently lowers SpearTongue to the ground. She crouches, and her answer is hissed over her shoulder, “No, this is not a challenge, for I am no longer part of your pack.”
She presses her forehead to her dying companion’s, carefully avoiding the many gashes from the claws of ancient predators. “Payapang lumipas, alma,” she speaks grimly, a parting gift, wisps of green arcane flowing from her mouth into SpearTongue’s.
“Indeed,” hisses the packmaster.
CopperTongue slams his spiked shield in the warrior’s face as she stands up, unaware of the violence aimed at her. The stunned warrior snatches for a weapon, but her darts only spill to the ground with her blood. He then clenches his macuahuitl with every fiber of his strength, his rage, and frustration, and brings the club’s embedded obsidian blades down caving in the hunter’s skull. He knows the death will not be quick; as the fallen warrior loses the sensation of life in her body, the pain simply radiating stronger from the blows of her murderer, till there is none to feel it.
The leaves around him are painted in dark slashes of lifeblood. He pants, struggling to even his breathing and avoid his sister’s eye. She tries to speak, probably some rebuke, but the traitor’s healing has not yet taken effect.
“You do not fight fair.” Instead, it is a young man’s voice that breaks the silent moment of the soul passing.
“No, I don’t. Show yourself!” CopperTongue snarls his answer, forcing his macuahuitl aloft.
“I don’t always either,” the voice replies, all solemn finality.
He hears the volley of crossbow bolts sing through the air, but CopperTongue struggles to raise his shield, his speed and strength ill-spent. The foreign metal riddles his chest, and he is thrown back against the earth he once proudly protected, his blood and flesh to feed the jungle.
In his last slivers of life, he hears steps approaching and fights to lift his head, determined to see his opponent. He does not expect to see the face of an outsider, lit gently by a sheaf of shining plants. Indignation surges life back into his body, just long enough to utter, “Thief! Know my name! I am-”
The other ensures his kill with a shot to the head. “Monsters do not have names.”
Even then, SpearTongue can do nothing but watch, her wide eyes searing the outsider’s face into her mind. She tenses as he takes a step toward her, scrambling for and falling short of any nearby weapon. He pauses with a sad smile.
“May the Father have mercy on you,” her brother’s killer utters and walks away.
The morning light draws near. A group of warriors and hunters gather after much-needed rest; Kofe, IvorySting, and PiercingGaze among them. The warrior princess was quick to push away even her protector’s concerned arm after the antidote had cleared her blood, insisting on walking on her own.
“We shall scour the lands by the crossing,” she announces, her thoughts already far from her own poisoning. “That city elf must have left something for us to track.”
A bellowing horn is sounded, just as two younglings come running down the path like wildcats on the grass.
“The outsider! He’s here!” the elf yells, pointing excitedly back.
“Maestro told us to tell you, princess,” his lizardfolk friend adds. “He is the one escorting him to the village.”
The news spreads and the whole tribe gathers on the outskirts and grows still. Kofe stands a few steps ahead of the crowd, straining even his considerable height to see if this outsider is his liege. IvorySting stares at her mistress, trying to read her motives.
“There they are!” the two young scouts announce.
Two figures emerged from the foliage; a way-watcher, and an outsider, both waving as they see the many faces turned to them. The way-watcher thrusts his spear upward, for he has delivered the lost prize, while VeiledMaxim has a satchel of shining plants in hand, victorious in his own quest.
At that moment, a spear pierces the wind and flies by the young lord’s face, slashing the edge of his ear. The laceration lines up neatly with the warning cut on his cheek from the day before.
Several villagers tense or gasp, Kofe’s jaw gapes, and Jojo’s face pales not from poison but shock. The two young way-watchers giggle at the expressions of their elders. IvorySting flicks her tail, the only other satisfied face in the crowd.
VeiledMaxim’s shrug and honest grin wordlessly admit he deserved the strike. He spreads his hands, placating, and offers his attacker his luminescent spoils. PiercingGaze is silent her gaze wrathful, before finally gesturing for him to enter the village with a wave and a rare, returned smile.
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