When Time Comes Calling
by Kaieve in Dark Ages
A leap! No time to think! Throw the surigam! Stab! Twist! Don't let go! Twist twist twist! Rip! Stab! Twist again! Twist twist twist! The bite! Pain! Burning pain! Poision! Spreading across his body! Chomping mandibles! Crunching bone! Flaying flesh from muscle! A sting! From where? Behind! Turn! Stab! Twist! Stab! Twist! Red! Grey! Bite! The mandibles again…the end…the light at the end of the tunnel…one final bite…why didn't it finish him? Wouldn't it want to finish its flailing prey before it was able to collect itself enough to fight back? Or did it enjoy feeling the victim twist and turn as it ate? A horrible death…eaten alive…No reds…wishing he could look…stranded…an island…a light…the tunnel? Dannan? A darkness overwhelming it…Chadul? The shadow's war? What was it? For just a moment, a jarring second, the world came into perfect focus…all of Temuair in one sharp vision…the problems, hopes, dreams, and successes of every aisling ever to be within the Lands, all at once…overwhelming! Help! Too much, all at once! Can't take it! His vision…back…just for a second…as the crunching mandibles of the surviving centipede reached down…
Kaieve awoke with a scream. What a horrible nightmare! What did it all mean? If it had been the first time, he'd have passed it off as a freak occurrence, but it wasn't the first time. This had been a recurring dream for the past several weeks.
Kaieve looked to the bedside, his own world coming into focus. The room at Riona's Inn was sparsely decorated, a few flowers and a nightstand were all that accompanied his stay. That and the bed he slept on. The bed itself was an odd one, slightly lumpy in some places, soft as feathers in others. He might also have attributed it to the strange sleeping conditions, but he had tried several different beds in the past weeks.
During the day, Kaieve pondered the dream's meaning. At night, the dream came back, no matter how he tried to stop it. He had tried, tried, and tried once more over the time it had occurred. He had tried staying awake all night, but knew that, inevitably, sleep came, and the dream seemed to lure him there like a bait he swallowed hook, line, and sinker. He knew It would come. There was no stopping the cycle. As of late, Kaieve had become terrified of travelling in the Mileth Crypt, or near to anywhere else inhabited with dangerous beasts, lest his dream show itself to be less a dream and more a premonition.
Now Kaieve spent his days either talking with the visitors in Riona's Inn, or at the tavern conversing drunkenly with whomever was there. When he was under the influence of the seductive (and, he had found, rather pacifying) wine that was served at the bar, even the mundanes provided a decent conversation. Today he elected to travel once more to Mileth's tavern, where he would decide which drink proved sufficent to fight the ever-increasing fear and depression that followed him like a shadow and infected him like a plague.
* * * *
That night, it came agin.
* * * *
Wandering…where? It was fuzzy…he couldn't quite tell…it was dark…but then, wasn't everything these days? There were forms…in the distance? He couldn't tell. Were they coming closer? Or moving farther away? He looked down at his feet. The ground warped and twisted beneath them. At times, it seemed to fall out from under him. Other times, it spiked up, as though some ethereal deamon were trying to break through the ground, and he was sure he'd be tossed to the ground…wouldn't it then fall out from under him? Sacrifice him to the merciless void below? Would it catch him in mid-fall, play with him, drop him, catch him, drop him, catch him…and when it was tired of its toys, what then? He saw something…leap!
The dream ended in its usual manner, the island, the light, the darkness, the mandibles…they were what scared him the most…those biting, crunching, mandibles. No salvation from those jaws…but the dream was over now. There was no denying he was awake again. But Kaieve didn't feel any better.
* * * *
Kaieve somehow guided himself to the tavern, unsure how, but knowing he must've made the journey, if he were there. He looked at his feet. They didn't move…but surely they must've moved of their own volition earlier, there was no way he could've gotten to the tavern, himself, he'd never had the thought…prehaps it was the gods' will? He dismissed that thought as quickly as it came. Such things were for priests, not rogues.
"Kaieve!" a voice called. He barely recognized it, then looked up from his study of his feet. Sitting on a stool near the bar was his friend Zirilian. The spiked blue hair seemed to jump from his head like it had a mind of its own…sometimes Kaieve wondered exactly what he did to it to make it that way. But at the moment he had business, and that was walking over to the bar stool where Zirilian was seated. This he did with at least some degree of success.
Kaieve took his own seat at the bar and ordered a Hemloch. "Want one?" he inquired of Zirilian. Zirilian took a distasteful glance toward the pea-green concoction that sat in front of Kaieve on the wooden bar table.
"No thank you," he replied.
"Your loss," Kaieve noted, then took a long draught of the poisonus potion. Zirilian wondered to himself exactly how rouges forced that stuff down their throats, or if it was some genetic trickery by which they actually enjoyed the stuff.
"What brings you here, anyway?" Kaieve asked. "Don't usually see you around. Didn't you decide to abstain from drinking, always, I think was the word you used…" Kaieve slurred the thoughts into one rambling sentence, due mostly to the effect the toxic hemloch was already having on his brain.
"Well, I don't, usually," Zirilian admittted, "but a friend of mine told me I really should try it…"
"You got friends other than me?" Kaieve asked, his brain already stirred into a mush by his drink. "Just tell me 'is name an' I'll…" to emphasize his point, Kaieve drew his dagger and plunged it into the soft wood of the counter. The barkeep looked over at him distrustlfully.
"As I remember it, that friend was you," Zirilian chuckled.
"Then I'll get him good," Kaieve proclaimed, now utterly drunk. Zirilian looked carefully at his friend, ready to grab his arm, lest he try to follow through on his threat of killing Zirilian's "other friend".
"Hey, you, boy," an aged voice called. The voice seemed to crackle like burning paper, and all the two of them heard were the whisps of smoke carried by the wind. Nonetheless, the two young heads turned toward the noise's source.
The source of the voice was an old man, who pointed a bony finger towards Kaieve. His face was wrinkled, so much so that one could barely make out his features, his eyes hidden deep beneath the folds of his skin, lips nearly as white as a cow's hide, and shriveled like the raisins of the grapes that had lain too long in the sun in the Suomi farmer's fields.
Zirilian, with his reservations about the old man, and Kaieve, with his drunken recklessness hanging about him like a cloud, approached the nameless figure. The man looked up at them, and they could see his eyes. His eyes were black, black like a coal from the Kasumanium mines, black like a thunderhead, and then there was a flash of light. Was it lightning? Or a flash of hope at the two young souls staring down at him?
Again, the man spoke to them, a rasp, bordering on a whisper, the only voice he could manage. And this time, the sound was not the crackle of burning leaves, it was the melody of the wind, prehaps wind darting playfully between the trees, prehaps wind carrying on its lips a song of forewarning, and that was what Zirilian, pining for a meaning withing the old man's impassionate eyes, found it to be: it was lightning in his eyes, prehaps, and this wind-voice, it, it was the calm…before the storm.
"Boy," the man whispered, and he looked directly into Kaieve's eyes, and for Kaieve the wind was now a shrieking storm, all clouds gone from his brain, blown from it by the whipping sounds and high-pitched creaks and crackles of this one man's voice. "Boy," he continued, "I see you…I see you…I see your eyes, they are the windows…to the soul. And your soul, I can see it clearly in your eyes, your soul is in turmoil, grappling constantly with its own demons, not with grin or horn but sent by Chadul, the demon that is far more insidious, the kind that is subtle, the kind that will gain ye trust then stab ye in the back whence ye turn 'round. This demon…this demon is the dream terror, the one that plagues ye in ye sleep, the one that bites and claws at that place ye cannot find, the place ye cannot defend…the realm…of the mind.
"Boy!" and this time it was near to a shriek, but Zirilian, Kaieve, and the old man were the only ones in the tavern besides the unemotional mundanes, and the man's voice seemed somehow to carry no echo. "Boy, I, too, am held by such demons. I alone cannot fight them. But young able-bodied warriors…could." And this time the man looked directly at the two of them, seeming to cover them both at once with his penetrating gaze, a gaze that was chill, nearly indifferent at times, yet bit like the cold winter wind, as though the gaze itself had teeth.
"What do you mean?" Zirilian asked, casting a doubtful gaze at the man. "I would not think such creatures to be manifest."
"Oh, oh, but they are," the man implored. "I know that one may be found in the Mileth Crypt. It lies in a deep dark depth, penetrable only by those clear of mind and true of heart. Will you, will you, go slay my demons…" he looked at Kaieve, "and yours."
* * * *
Zirilian and Kaieve trod out of the tavern somberly, loaded down with the hugness of the task they were about to attempt. There was almost no chance either would survive, even though they each carried several beothaich deums on their belts. That all was, if this man's demons even existed.
Kaieve, for his part, was terrified at the prospect of going into the Mileth Crypt, despite Zirilian's vows of protection. Kaieve, thought about, willed, the crypt never to appear on the horizon. Alas, it did. Even Kaieve, deep down in his gut, knew it had to. It, like the Dream, was inevitable.
The two of them entered the crypt, somehow never seeing a single other aisling in the process. The crypt was dark and dank, the walls overgrown with moss and other odd kinds of plants Zirilian suspected even a professional herbalist couldn't identify. The occasional rat scurried by, but nothing more, as though there was something down there, something that was waiting for them, could wait as long as it needed, and knew that Kaieve and his friend would come eventually.
Down they went, several floors, until they came to where the old man had told them to go. Zirilian looked about the place carefully. He looked, studying every nook and cranny for signs of what the old man had mentioned. Then he took three steps forward and disappered into thin air.
Kaieve, too, looked about himself. He knew this was his chance, his only chance, to take an out, to run from the beast. But the nightmares would come. He knew there was only one chance of stopping them. He steeled himself, and took three steps forward.
Kaieve and Zirilian felt a slight tingling as they stepped into what usually was open air. They suddenly found themselves at the bottom of a staircase. The room they had emerged in harbored far less moss than the dungeon above, something slightly unsettling, and doubtless exactly as the creature wanted them to feel.
It was utterly silent in the room, save for the harsh breaths of Zirilian and Kaieve. They looked about…nothing. Not a beast. But there was evil here, though it was not manifest…not yet. Suddenly, Kaieve was drawn back into his dream: the strange dungeon, the forms. As he watched, the pillars of the room seemed to sway in front of him, as though the evil were collecting in a single spot. And suddenly, it became Terror.
The air seemed to bring itself together, wrap itself into one giant fist of horror, trying to punch vital targets before making a knockout. And then all the Evil seemed to wind to the floor, and manifest. A giant red scorpion stood in front of the two of them. Its piercing yellow eyes were not the yellow of the sun that blazed upon Temuair's surface, but a penetrating yellow, one that radiated challenge, and took on all comers. And its eyes said it never lost.
"Traps." Zirilian hissed to Kaieve. "Now."
Kaieve snapped to his senses. He kneeled down and bent a stray bit of metal from his pocket into a crescent and took out his dirk, sharpening the edge. He took out a centipede's gland and squeezed some of the poison onto the edge. A poisoned stiletto trap. He took a small bit of string from his other pocket, and wound it about the barely sharpened end.
Kaieve pulled out a final bit of metal and used his dirk to punch a tiny hole. The thing in front of them watched intently, making no move. Finally, Kaieve wound the string through the hole and carefully set the trap on the ground, lest it go off in his hand.
Suddenly, Zirilian leapt. He drove his sword toward the creature, which moved and struck. As it had taken the form of a giant scorpion, it flashed its tail nearly faster than one's eyes could track, and knocked Zirilian to the floor. It apparently did not feel like finishing the game just yet.
It moved toward Kaieve and he saw its giant mandibles, and once again his dream came to him, but this time he knew he was awake, and there was no denying the reality. Kaieve was stunned by the giant tail, as Zirilian had been, and lay prone on the floor, knowing that at any moment the beast could move forward and chop him in half with those gaint mandibles, our crush him in its claws.
It moved closer, and chomped down…
And there was a shout, an inhuman scream. But Kaieve was too far gone to notice it. He was flying through the air, and off in the distance, there it was, the island! The Island of Dreams! And suddenly there was a light, and he knew it would eventually be crushed by darkness. But this time a figure walked from the light, and he was blinded by it, he could not quite make out the face of the figure, or it did not want him to. The figure took many forms from Kaieve's past, and from the Past before Kaieve. He saw many scenes he was quite positive no aisling had ever seen: Dannan, Deoch creating the aisling, the bond of the Gods and the Wars of many Deochs past, of times before the Times were measured in Deochs.
And finally a definete figure emerged from the light, it was a man…the old man from the tavern. Kaieve looked at him, at his wrinkled face, and saw that the face was no longer cold and dark, but shining, and his eyes danced with a new kind of light, another fire, but this was not the fire of burning leaves but the fire that lit and made warm the hearth of a family, and children sat by the hearth and played by it, and the mother came and swept them up, chiding that it was time for bed. All this Kaieve saw in the old man's eyes, and he knew that the man was correct, the eyes mirrored the soul, that one could see true intentions and feelings by a gaze into the dark pools that radiated a light…but it was the soul of the man that told wether the light was reflected off another's soul or a burning brightness from within.
And in that moment, Kaieve knew the old man was not an old man, but Time, and He had had only one nemesis. Only evil has plagued all Time, and now, at least for a while, for this man the blink of an eye, Kaieve was sure, he was free of the plauge, and Kaieve knew he had surely done this man a great service. He knew that, eventually, the evil would come again, but by then another aisling would be Chosen by Time to combat this terror, and that he, too, would succeed. And forever, and forever thereafter, there would be another and another to fight this evil, and dreams would be forever unclouded. As long as there was darkness, there would be light.