Image for the poem Otherworldly Memories Part III: The Black Hand

Otherworldly Memories Part III: The Black Hand

- Otherworldly Memories Part III: The Black Hand -

  I reclined upon a luxurious divan, relaxing amid the soft cushions as the visiting duchess from one of the many fey courts sipped from her wine cup and regaled me with tales of her homeland. A lot of her tales were dull and I gave those little thought, opting merely to smile, nod, and pretend to pay attention to what she was saying to me. She was about forty years old, though she looked a bit younger. With the Elvish kindred it could be difficult to tell, and I was certain she would have a difficult time ascertaining my own age for the same exact reasons. She had a full hourglass figure, generous breasts and wide hips. Her face was round and cherubic, with a certain natural beauty to it that I found pleasant enough to look upon. She wore a pair of colorful, loose silken trousers, voluminous and full, which were so gathered at the ankles with drawstrings, and tucked into those was a low cut linen blouse with equally voluminous sleeves. Over the blouse she wore a button up vest that if anything accentuated how low cut that blouse of hers actually was. She was bedecked with jewelry as colorful as her garments, and had large lopped earrings in her ears. She kicked off the gold slippers she wore to be more comfortable as she stretched out on the couch opposite from me. She had well tanned skin, hazel eyes, pointed ears, and a smile that could warm the heart of winter itself. Her hair was long, wavy, and worn up in a fancy coiffure that was typical of Elvish royalty. Her laughter was so infectious! And I found her to be nothing if not charming.

   My beloved Deirdre was away at this time on a trading deal with a lady who was an emissary from a hidden kingdom of the Elves that existed in those times in what today would be the British Isles. Back then, it was known by other names, and for the most part it was considered a remote part of the world. But the roads hither were safely traveled if one took more secret routes, and our kind were nothing at all if not secret in our ways. We lived as outsiders, unknowns in human societies, and that is how we truly preferred to live. Humanity had little love for our kind, and we had even less for them. I may have been rendered mortal by the gods, for all Elves were mortal now, and this life I am recounting was but one of many that I had been born into as a result... but our lifespans were still exceedingly longer than any who possessed human blood rather than the elder blood of the Fair Folk and their kith and kin. And still had there been those of humanity whose own diminished lifespans caused them to be jealous of we who by no doing of our own outstripped them in years but suffered the effects of aging but little. Some began to call us demons, and referred to us as deathless fiends. All baseless tales born of jealousy and prejudice. It was wise to be secretive under such circumstances! And Deirdre kept in touch with me by messages and couriers, so I knew that she was faring well and oft it made me feel as if she was with me in person.

   I was trying very hard to pretend I was not finding this pleasing visitor of mine to be attractive to my eyes, but my gaze kept falling upon her breasts and I was mentally caressing her body more oft than not as she spoke. At one point, she noticed this and blushed visibly, saying: “Excuse me, but my Lord! I am very beautiful am I not?” and I remarked admitting: “Exceedingly so, madame.” and now it was I who was blushing. She then added: “Very good, then! Now that we have established that you find me to be beautiful, can we please get back to the business at hand? Thank you.” and I listened more intently to all that she had to relate to me. Only this time, the conversation turned to a subject that I found to be a remarkably fascinating one after all. She exclaimed excitedly: “Now then! I am a duchess by birth yes, but I am a merchant by trade and it is this which has increased my family's wealth a great deal. I almost caught up with you on your way back to these lands from your last expedition to the other world, but to be frank you chose some rather roundabout ways of returning hither and to be frank I lost your trail. As you can see, I did catch up with you at last though it is much later... a good year later... than would be to my liking. For I had hoped to enlist both your aid as well as your companion Deirdre's! For there is a bit of an adventure I am keen on undertaking, and have the need to any with the skills that are so required.”

   I cleared my throat a bit, cupped my face in my hands a bit childishly, and said to her in a somewhat silly manner: “Really! Do tell, do tell.” and she giggled a bit before continuing: “Yes, anyway, though it seems we will not have the benefit of Deirdre's tracking and ranger skills, we shall still have you and to be frank it is your knowledge of ancient Kalaborea and its' now long lost empire that I believe will be of the most use to me. I am not here to press you into my service, since we are both nobles from very, very different houses after all... I am not your sovereign, nor are you mine. Instead, I am proposing that you hear my offer and if it pleases you that you will join me in my expedition as an equal partner with not a single string attached. However, know that once we leave it will be difficult to return until our journey is complete and our task done. Is that acceptable so far?” and I admitted that it sounded reasonable to me, adding: “I have trusted stewards who can tend to the affairs of keeping things as I like them to be in my lands whilst I am away, fear not! But I would hear more of this adventure of yours before I agree to anything in the way of joining you on it or not.” and she began to speak and elaborate more on what she had in mind after that, explaining: “I have explored the other world to excess, but there are still places on Earth that I have not been to, mysteries I have not solved. I have an interest in the history of ancient Kalaborea, and have heard that you are an expert on it... that you have detailed past life memories from when you dwelt there prior to the downfall of Atlantis. One such place is a misty isle that some say can be seen only at certain times of the year, when the moon and stars align just right. It is said to appear in the ocean somewhere to the south and westward from the isles where Deirdre is at present. Many claim it is the polar opposite of the blessed island of Hy-Brasil, that it is a dark place which is a shadowy sort of holdover from Kalaborea's fallen empire. Still others claim that it can appear in any ocean but at very different times of the year and in the times of several different heavenly conjunctions. However, I have it on good authority that within the next month or two it will specifically be where I have stated. Only one man has ever returned from there, and he was insane... and he told tales of savage creatures and odd sorts of magic that sounded impossible. He was my court cartographer, and something of a renowned student of the past. He is still alive, but his mind is not what it once was. I would undertake a personal journey to that island, and due to all I have heard of you... I would prefer it if you were to come with me so that I would not be going into this blind, so to speak. Having lost our only expert on Kalaborea, there is no one else I can turn to except for you.” and as she said this, she set her wine cup down on the end table next to the couch and traced her fingers over her cleavage, which had my full attention. She was, I suspected at this point, trying to entice me, for she batted her eyelashes in a certain way and opened her full lips, licking them with her tongue suggestively. “Do you have maps, charts that will get us there?” I asked, and she playfully said: “Oh  yes I do, never fear! We have all the charts and maps we need.” and her perfume was pretty, floral scented, and I found it much to my liking. The duchess ran her hand over her hip next, and I knew at once she was trying to appear seductive to me. “I still don't even know what your name is.” I stated, intrigued, and she told me her full name: “My name is Kar'mila Crom-Cruach, and of old my rather infamous ancestors called the green island of Eriu home. Eriu is one of the isles I mentioned previously, in the region where your Deirdre is. I realize you regard my homeland as distant from here, and to be frank it really is... but at least now, you have an idea of the length and breadth of my travels. To me, what you consider distant, I consider simply a distance to be traveled. I am at heart an adventuress, much like you are an adventurer by inclination. I think we can be very good partners!” And the way she said that, suggested far more intimate things than a business proposition should have. “I will do this thing, then! Would you have me sign a contract of employment, next?” and she said to me at last: “Nothing so primitive! Come sit next to me over here on the couch... put your arms around me, and we will think of other ways of binding you into my service for a time.” and I did as she asked, eager to partake of all the charms she had to offer. We kissed the moment I sat down next to her, long, deep, passionate, and our hands were all over each other after that. We spoke not further, of business.

   The journey overland was long, and there were countless stops along the way, in parts of the world I had never been to before in that lifetime. Ever we journeyed by back ways, and secret paths, for it was our nature to be cautious, and in the company of the duchess Kar'mila the journey went swiftly and very pleasantly for both of us. I had instructed my stewards to reply to any messages sent from Deirdre with all my love and a yearning for her swift return... but to also explain to her that I was bound for certain waters in the company of the duchess, and that it could be some time before I myself was able to return. We reached, eventually, the shores of what history would come one day to call Brittany, and there was the hidden port where our ship awaited us. The sea was calm on the day of our departure over it, and I was not certain entirely whether it was spring or summer, for it was that in between time when the cool of spring is just beginning to give way to the summer's heat. The ship was loaded with supplies, and the crew was trustworthy, the captain skilled, the navigator intelligent enough for the task at hand. Elvish mariners were far better at their profession than human sailors were known to be, and certain arts were employed by them that could at times... or so it was said... bend the wind to their will and allow a fairer passage over even the most turbulent of waters. Thus, some of the crew were said to be sorcerers and sorceresses of great skill, working closely with the navigator. The duchess wore clothing not dissimilar to what she was attired in when she came to my home. Her fiery red hair looked bright and lovely in the sun's warm glow, that morning. I must have looked strange to many of those present, for my appearance was somewhat ethereal looking even at the best of times. My skin was light, and with a slight yellowish tint to it. My hair, light blonde and worn in a pageboy, bob-like style that went well with my features. I was of average build, a hermaphrodite with a slightly pronounced abdomen, and my eyes were almond in shape and a vibrant green in color. My bones were slender, and I had small breasts, though my male genitalia was fully functional in a way that was rare for one born with my condition. I had a somewhat feminine shape to my hips, and my face was round in that way some eunuchs' faces are. My nose was a bit aquiline, and my lips small. Unlike those of the sort of Elvish blood that the duchess possessed, my own ears were only slightly tapered, and not fully pointed. For in me in the ancient blood was far more diminished, which also made it that I was not as tall ad someone like Kar'mila who was a good head or two taller than I was. There were moments on our journey, that I felt like a child when standing next to her... although I did not mind this. I wore a long flowing gown that was scarlet in color, with a black sash belt tied around my waist. It was of a very light and rather breathable material that was perfect for a warm season. It was sleeveless as well, with a wide and rounded neckline. I wore a pair of serviceable sandals, and wore a black pearl necklace and a pair of black beaded bracelets, as well as a pair of black pearl earrings. I was of Dark Elvish lineage in that life, and not adverse to celebrating it in this way. I wore lavender scented perfume, and looked outwardly much more like a noblewoman than a Lord. But all the same Lord was my title and oft people interchanged it with “My Lady” as the mood took them. I found the journey over the ocean to be less than pleasant, and was sick during the first several days of it prior to acclimating myself to the rocking of the ship. I had journeyed by ship before, but it had been a long enough time that I had to become used to it all over again it seemed. Kar'mila nursed me through a great deal of my discomfort, and before long I was used to sea travel once again. “You have grown far too used to comfort in recent years I think!” the duchess teased me at one point, and I replied: “You are one to speak of comfort! How many changes of clothing did you bring anyway? I've lost count.” and we laughed and joked and idled away the long hours regaling each other with stories of our past exploits. I had a feeling she embellished many of hers, but she had a natural gift for storytelling that I appreciated a great deal. The artist in me hoped to learn from her this art, so that one day I too could weave tales in ways that could capture the listener and captivate them with the magic of the telling. I was a bard deep in my soul, and was even back then attempting to dabble in the craft of the poet. I recited some poems for the duchess, and we spent many passionate nights together... for we shared the same opulent cabin.

   The wind blew as the magic that powered our sails needed it to, and the Elvish long ship picked up a good enough speed that the oars did not need to be employed at all, though we had rowers at the ready just in case. “Why do you have no eyebrows?” asked the duchess of me as we looked out over the sea whilst on deck near the end of our voyage to the distant misty isle. “I have no hair anywhere, save for my eyelashes and my hair on my head... and you wonder about my eyebrows!” to which she replied in a somewhat puzzled manner: “I know! Right? But seriously, you look different even from others of your blood, and it seems almost that you are a throwback in certain respects to the first ancestors of our kind. The ones from the days of our most remote legends. You are most unusual, my Lord.” and I did not at all mind that she found me unusual, for she had a fondness for curiosities it seemed. I just hoped that I was not only one more curiosity to her. What was happening between us, was it love? Or was she only using me! If it was love, then Deirdre would not mind, for she had shared me with other ladies and girls in the past who had taken my fancy. I could not produce any children, and because of that many of my paramours saw me as a way of experiencing sexual pleasure without the risk of pregnancy. And in an era when childbirth could be deadly, someone like me was seen as a  blessing indeed. But also, as a bit of a curse for my noble house, for I could never produce an heir. Thus did I plan to one day adopt a girl or a boy to serve as an heir instead. It was something Deirdre felt should come later, rather than sooner. In any case, ere long our vessel reached the dark waters wherein the misty isle was said to be appearing. “Is there a specific day that this island appears on, or it is more a specific time of year? You led to me to believe it was not specific to only one day.” I asked the duchess, who replied as she looked out over the waters anxiously: “Worry not, my Lord! It is very much not tied to just one day, and as a matter of fact we ought to be coming upon it any moment now.” and soon enough there came into our sight an odd cloud on the horizon that seemed to be at sea level and growing larger by the minute. Though that was a bright and sunny day, the cloud was an immense gathering of fog and mist that appeared to be impenetrable. The captain walked over to us, abandoning his vigil to express a bit of concern regarding this. He asked Kar'mila: “My Lady, begging your pardon but if we are to sail into that cloud... and the navigator informs me that we are bound therein... how are we to tell if there be any sharp rocks or reefs that might sink us?” and he was correct to be concerned. The Elvish long ship was quite massive, much larger than the Viking long ships of later periods of history, and with a spacious hold, cabins for all the crew and any guests that might come along, as well as a far more stylized dragon prow. In many ways, it was far ahead of its' time, but this made it quite cumbersome to maneuver in tight places... so it was not wise to sail blindly without being certain that there was no danger to be encountered the ship or its' crew. “The captain has a good point, duchess.” I agreed. She thought about it for a bit, and then called for one of the sorcerers, who conjured a water elemental from the depths of the ocean. The creature had a massive, reptilian form and towered over the ship in the sea before us. “What is thy command?” it so asked, and the sorcerer thence bade it go forth to test the waters within the cloud, so that we might be certain there was nothing that might sink the ship within its' confines. The great creature swam off into the cloud after that, and as soon as it touched the mists of it... the water elemental vanished in a flash of light. The duchess than exclaimed triumphantly: “It is as the stranger legends say! The mists are there only to transport us to the island we seek, which is not after all upon this plane of existence but actually in some other. It is like passing through a portal! There is no danger to fear in doing so.” and we were all very relieved to learn this, for it would be similar to passing into the other world. Something every one of us had done before in the past without any difficulties. We made ready to proceed, keeping fully to our present pace, and soon the ship sailed into the cloud and we too vanished in a flash of light, ship and all. It was instantaneous, the crossing of whatever distance we had traversed, and before us was the island we sought. Though the skies were alien and strange! The sky itself was blue just as on Earth, but the blue was shot through with purplish colors of all sorts, and the clouds seemed stretched somewhat.

   The sun was more orange and less golden too, and the light of it was like the light of late afternoon... though it had been midday previously. The island before us was darkly wooded, with a vast jungle that had within it plants and flowers of strange tropical varieties. The air was humid, though not too much so, and the island was crowned with great dark cliffs and crags that appeared crooked and warped by a force beyond comprehension, the rocks seeming bent at random angles and all of them odd. “This is a very dark place indeed, at least at first glance.” I muttered, intending for the duchess to overhear me. She swallowed hard, nervous, and tried to reassure me... as much as herself... that all was well, saying: “It is just different from the worlds we are used to, is all. Remember, because a thing seems alien that does not mean that it intends us harm! It is merely, as the tales state, a dark reflection of Hy-Brasil. As such, it just... looks like this. Nothing to worry about.” And the waters of that island were safe and free of any sharp rocks, crags, or reefs of any dangerous variety. We put in at a sandy beach that was not far from where we arrived through the mists, and were soon fully disembarked. It was myself, the duchess, a couple of the sorcerers, and a young boy named Var'lan who was said to be a decent scholar and a bit of a handy sort when it came to having a good sense of direction. He was not a ranger like Deirdre, but was still better than nothing when it comes to having a guide through unknown wilderness. He took his lodestone out and consulted it to see which direction was north. He then announced happily: “Well, my Lady, and my Lord, it seems that at least north is still north here. Wherever here might be!” and that did sit well with us, for on some planes of existence north was not always where one expected it to be. The boy was pleasant and cheerful, attired in a pair of forest green bloomer-like shorts and a crop top in a matching color, along with the sandals we all wore for this expedition. He was young, probably about twelve years old, and had shoulder length curly red hair. His features were so feminine looking, that at first I thought he was a girl. “She is a pretty little thing, isn't she?” I remarked to Kar'mila, who said to me in a quick reply: “That is a boy, not a girl... though he is pretty, I will grant him that!” and having a liking for both genders, I stood by my opinion that Var'lan was beautiful. We allowed the boy to pick a direction, and he waited for Kar'mila to consider the choice before we all committed to it. We decided to go with that direction after all, and soon we were heading inland through a mostly clear section of grassland that ran between two vast densely wooded areas that marked the beginning in both directions of the vast jungles. The boy knew his craft, for he carried a curved sword with him that he used highly effectively to clear away tall grass, underbrush, and small plants that were in our way as we traversed the grassy terrain before us. The shadows of the massive trees to either side of this stretch fell upon our trail, and it was like the shadows of giants towering over us. There was an ominous sense to all of this.

   It was some time before our expedition came to a dark and winding river that flowed down from the high crags further inland at the heart of the island. There appeared no way to cross it, and so we made the decision to follow the river for a ways until a better choice presented itself. The time of day did not seem to change, and there was no way to determine how close to nightfall we might be as the hours of the day went by. “Does time even pass here?” I wondered aloud, and one of the tall sorcerers, with their shaved heads and gauzy robes, explained: “I not think it does. This plane seems to have a different sort of logic to it than the plane wherein Earth exists... it would not surprise me if upon leaving this domain we might even discover that no time has passed at all back home. Going back, it would be as if we had never left in the first place!” and I had no idea how the sorcerer might know all of that, but I was happy for any explanation I could receive, however esoteric it might be. The smell of the plants and flowers that grew along the river were rich and pleasant. The water was also clear and unpolluted in any way. It seemed as if we were surrounded by an untamed paradise, however weird it all looked otherwise. I felt a bit detached as we made our way onward, as if everything had a dreamlike quality to it. The sound of strange birds and insects could be heard, and the humid air was made even more so by a great volcano.

   The volcano towered above us just ahead, and it was clear that we had at first mistaken it for just one more craggy mountain or peak out of the many that could be found upon this island. It looked dormant, and tendrils of smoke drifted up from it lazily as small streams of lava flowed down from it to meet the waters of the river, where a great torrent of steam billowed upward. It was beautiful, and also strange to see such a rare mixing of fire, water, and air. “This is a place sacred to the elements.” I heard one of the sorcerers state, and I agreed with that. “If this place was home to the folk of Kalaborea once... I wonder if they decided to leave it just as quickly as they arrived? For those were never a subtle people, either in their lifestyle or in their architectural styles. And I have seen no sign of any dwellings either ruined or otherwise since we got here!” I stated, for the further inland we were heading the more it seemed as if the place had never seen any visitors previously in all of its' history. “It does seem unusual, and I do not like at all how much this contradicts the legends surrounding this place.” remarked the duchess. Even the boy was at a loss to decide how we should proceed. He said: “If we continue to follow the river, it will just take us up higher and higher into the hills and eventually into the mountains. There is a path that I can clearly see, which leads up the slopes of the volcano for a ways before ascending higher into the cliffs up there... if that path is not just an animal trail, it should stand to reason someone made that trail previously. If there is anything here to find, then that is our best bet to find something.” and I saw what he was pointing to, agreeing that this was the best course of action. “Let us go and give it a look!” I said eagerly, and we carefully made our way up the trail. The air was becoming quite hot there, but it was bearable for the most part. The river wound to the right of the volcano down below, and the trail ascended to the left of it, but close enough that we were cautious in case of any hot falling debris. The smell of sulfur was in the air, and it was as if we were climbing at the very fringes of Hell itself. Within the crater of the volcano could be heard the sound of bubbling lava, for soon we reached the summit of it and there the path we were following, swung sharply to the left... where a series of steps cut into the rock of the high cliffs led up to a grand temple that had been hidden from our view down below. As all the things on this island were, the temple appeared surreal to behold. We had found what we so sought.

   It was behind a natural wall of cliffs that ensured it would never be seen from any direction below us, and nothing living grew upon the heights were the temple's walls were raised up. It faced opposite and looking down upon the crater of the volcano's summit, as if this was by intent. The style of the temple was very ancient, and very much of lost Kalaborea. Beautiful spires, towers, and minarets rose up from its' walls, and grand columned buildings with delicate looking domes soared above us as we climbed the steps leading up to its' gates. There was nothing of planning or design about any of it, everything to do with that temple was put together with a logic that was more otherworldly and bizarre than even my past life memories of Kalaborea remembered. “They never built anything this random looking!” I cried out, explaining what I meant to the duchess, who could not but help staring all about her in wonder and terror. I too felt a sense of terror, as if this place might swallow us up if it could. The boy was shaking in visible fear, but pressed on regardless... and only the sorcerers seemed unmoved by the sight. Or if it had moved them, their discipline would not allow them to show it. “This is an evil place.” I said, for in the air I could sense a profound sense of something terrible at work in that temple. There were statues of alien looking winged deities to either side of the temple gates, which were open and made of jagged iron with sharp spikes sticking our from them. The towers and buildings that comprised the temple just within the outer wall were painted in countless colors, as was the wall itself. It would have been almost maddening to look upon, were it not also so beautiful in a strange way. This was not like the folk of old Kalaborea at all, and if it had been they who created this... then the ones who came here had changed a great deal from the people I once knew. “Who could live in such a place as this?” said the duchess, and I had no answer. None of us, not even the sorcerers in our employ, had an answer. This defied all logic.

   Though those colors were many, they were faded with time, and if time indeed ceased to flow in this place, then that aspect of it had to have happened after this temple's decline. For decline it had, and was on the inside wholly abandoned. “It is like the ghost of a dream.” said the boy, and it was as if he could read my own thoughts about it. The courtyard of the temple, around which all of the buildings of it had been arranged, was circular and in the middle of it was a pedestal on which sat a rainbow colored jewel. It was as if the jewel were the focal point of the entire place, and not one of us dared to touch it. As we regarded it, there were ghostly shapes moving about within the shadows just out of the corners of our eyes, yet when we turned to look there was nothing there. “This place is haunted!” remarked the boy in a frightened tone. “Perhaps they are the creatures from the stories about this place.” offered Kar'mila, in a reasonable manner that made the suggestion somehow even more horrible to consider. For they were, in those stories, savage things. I had brought an iron short sword with me, and the duchess was armed similarly, for iron was said to be serviceable against certain supernatural beings in ways that even silver was not. But all the same, I had wished that we had something silver with us after all. For if those were creatures from beyond death, then iron would be useless against them if they proved to be ethereal and spectral rather than physical. There were audible whispers after that, and from out the alcoves and the doorways all around the courtyard there emerged countless robed figures wearing white hooded cloaks over tattered looking yellow robes and gowns. Nothing of their faces could be seen, for they appeared to be wearing strange masks with demonic looking features that were different for each one of them. As if they wanted their masks to be as distinct as their own faces. “Who are you? Why do you come hither! We did not call you, and yet you have come.” they said, in low voices that sounded distant despite that they were closely surrounding us now. Kar'mila explained the purpose of our expedition, and I hoped to all the gods that these people, if people they were, understood the value of exploration and the study of the distant past. They paused for a moment, and then suddenly loud screams erupted and all Hell broke loose as the sorcerers clutched their heads in agony and began to run about as if their wits had left them and they had been driven mad. One of them tore at his own eyes, blinding himself, and another clawed at his face so viciously that he was actually tearing away strips of his own skin. “Savage beasts! There are savage beasts everywhere! Can you not see them? Surely you can hear them, their cries are awful!” screamed the most coherent of the sorcerers. And soon he too had lost his mind and began babbling and then drooling as he and all the rest of them crumbled to the floor of the courtyard, falling dead at last... each man's heart failing him from the terror and horror of what he had witnessed. When all concluded, we had no sorcerers remaining in our party. “Oh sweet merciful goddesses of my people!” cried out the duchess upon seeing this horrific display. The boy cried out: “That is no way for men to die!” and as I looked upon the lifeless bodies of the sorcerers I knew that weapons would be just as useless here as their magic may have been. “Why did you kill them?” I asked of the cloaked strangers, and one of them replied: “Because they had evil within their hearts. We judged them, found them wanting, and acted in accordance to what we knew to be right.” And I said angrily in response: “You dare call murder right!” to which another of them answered: “Our laws are not your laws... here, we act before a crime could be committed, not content to wait until after it has been perpetrated. They planned to steal our jewel, and in doing that they would have killed us all. We acted only out of self preservation.” and I explained to them: “But I too had a brief notion at first to take that gem, until I thought perhaps it might be a trap or a trick, and then thought better of it. Should I be killed, because of that one fleeting thought?” and still another of the strangers said: “No! Because you realized the thought was wrong. They did not. That is  the difference... they intended to act upon the thought, whereas you did not.” I then asked, for I could not fathom such power as these beings clearly possessed: “Who are you? What... are you!” and thence there was a long silence in which nothing was said. The air was still, and I felt a great deal of fear enter into my heart, as I regarded these strange, demonically masked individuals who judged us mercilessly.

   “We are the last of a sect of sorcerers from ancient Kalaborea.” one of them at last explained, adding: “All that you see here, is our doing! We came hither from our homeland ere the world was rocked by a great devastation and all was changed... we fled the great cataclysm, we escaped the judgment that was visited upon the Earth by the gods in their terrible wrath and murderous fury. And at first, all was good. We created this temple using the jewel you see before you, and we made this island to our liking, in the end hiding it away from the rest of the world, in this dimension apart. But in the act of shifting it to this plane, we ruptured the flow of time here and warped the landscape... the temple, the colors of it, all that you see now, happened because of the eldritch power that the gem unleashed when we used it thus. We too were warped by its' magic, and that is why we must hide our visages, which have become terrible to look upon. Some of our people were driven mad by all of this, and they turned upon us! And so we had to deal with them, and cast them into the volcano to perish. After that, we made laws to live by, and we created fitting punishments for any and all crimes. You saw how we enact such justice! And no crimes have been committed here ever since. This was not our way, once... but now it is, because it must be.” And then they were silent again, as if waiting for one of us to voice our own thoughts or words in reply.

   These were no ghosts, I knew now... but there were countless many of them, and my party and I were a great deal fewer in number, especially now that our experts in the field of magic were slain. The full truth of it was, we likely were up against hundreds of them, since as many of the masked individuals we could see, there were surely more of them waiting in case these fell. And they clearly needed not even a weapon to kill, so any direct confrontation with them would be utterly useless. They could also seem to read our intent, and probably were reading mine even then! Violence in this case would only lead to a certain and clearly agonizing death. However, they made it abundantly clear that if something were to happen to that jewel, it would be the end of them all. But that might also unleash powers that would if allowed to run unchecked, possibly destroy the entire island. If nature, and flesh itself, could be made to warp because of whatever that gem contained... to tamper with it could be suicide. I tried one final time to reason with them, knowing they were probably aware... if reading my thoughts... that I was trying my best to avoid doing anyone, even them, any harm if at all possible. I began: “Please, listen to me! Once, in another life long, long ago... I dwelt in Kalaborea and was in fact the last emperor to reign over that grand empire during its' final, declining days. The awful fall of Kalaborea marked the end of an era for our people, but that downfall was merely a prelude to the absolute horrors that befell all the world when Atlantis met its' end. I know what it is to lose a people, a nation, a way of life. The gods' punishment of me was severe, and I lost my immortality as a result. I was condemned by their own unwavering laws to live, to die, and to reincarnate for so long as this world still exists. I, and countless of my brethren were dealt with thus! And still more, for even those very same gods who punished us were themselves made subject to their own judgment in the end, and ceased to be immortal as well. And so we now, all of us, must dwell in the shadows of this world, fugitives from our own past, and prisoners of that same past in many ways. Can you not see that you too have become as victims of your own law? In trying to prevent murder, you have become murderers yourselves. If you were ever truly of ancient Kalaborea, than you should still be subject to the will of your true emperor! I know the old name for our people, the El'vril... and if you can in actuality read the thoughts of others, then read mine now and look deep into my mind. See the memories I have of our fallen nation, see what part I played in its' history, and see that I speak the truth to you. As your emperor, I command you to change your law this day, and stop killing others for crimes that they have not even committed yet! It is wrong... and, this must end. Just as invading the minds of others in order to impose your own will is wrong. This was not done in Kalaborea, and it must not be done here! Do you understand me?” and I could feel them probing my mind with their own. For an instant, we were opened up fully to each other. I saw they had all become a hive mind, a collective.

   They had, all of them, lost their sense of individuality even as they strove to express it by making all of their masks different from each other. They were trapped in this terrible union they had created, but longed to be free of it. Though now, only death could free them! They could read all of my experiences in ancient Kalaborea, and they knew what part I played in all that transpired there and in Atlantis later on. I could feel hatred for me seething within them, as they blamed me for the downfall of Kalaborea... and for my part in the events that led to the destruction of Atlantis, and the doom of all the world that came after it. They were too blinded by fury to see that none of those things were wholly my fault, and that it was the darkness of others that was more truly to blame. Had the people of Kalaborea not fallen into decadent complacency, they could have steered the fate of their nation in a different direction. Had the king who ruled over Atlantis during its' final days not been arrogant, mad with power, and jealous of the gods, the El'vril, and pretty much all of Atlantis' rival nations... he, would have listened to reason and done as I suggested, and used the technology and knowledge that he was gifted with for good rather than for evil. But just as no one in Kalaborea heeded the warning signs, and the king of Atlantis would not be swayed from his destructive path... these warped survivors were clearly unable and unwilling to listen to reason. For a brief moment, they were unsure of what to do. Should they kill their reincarnated emperor, thus avenging their nation in their eyes? But what if I was right... for they saw my arguments in my mind, saw my defense of my innocence, and could understand if they chose to that I was not the one who was truly the culprit in all of these events that had transpired. I was being put on a psychic trial and the only witnesses I had in my defense were the same memories that my judges seemed hell-bent on using against me. I knew I could not dare to hesitate, for if they found me guilty in their eyes... I was dead, and all those who had come with me would be killed as well. One thing that the folk of Kalaborea were not known for, was mercy! But at present, they were distracted by their indecision and I could in my mind-link with them that they had established hear their countless voices arguing, fighting, debating over what to do about me. Seizing the opportunity and certain another would never arise, I leapt at the jewel they prized so highly and clenched it in my left hand, making a fist over it. For it was of a small enough size to fit in the palm of my hand. The jewel was delicate, like glass, and I suspected that just like glass it could be shattered. All at once, the hive mind of the Kalaborean survivors turned its' focus solely toward me. “Do, do not do it! Leave the gem alone! Please, do not do this!” I could hear all their voices chattering. I could hear them shouting in my head: “No! Kill the reborn emperor before it is too late... damn the law, damn all the laws of our ancestors. If the gem is destroyed, so are we!” and I knew that I had no time to try and tap into the jewel's magic in order to change things for the better here. All it would take is a psychic attack directed at me of the same sort that had slain the sorcerers, and then it would all be over. But they said that stealing the stone would end them! Which meant, if it was taken away from this island, that too would be enough. That was not an option though... for they were even now surrounding us and closing in on my party in order to kill us all. There was no escape from their clutches now! In one swift motion, I slammed the gem unto the ground and smashed it as hard as I was able to with the pommel of my sword. The jewel was as delicate and glass-like as I had suspected, and it shattered into countless shards, with an explosion of light that temporarily blinded me. I felt hot pain, burning pain, in my right hand, the one that had held the sword and delivered that blow. But all was at present black due to my temporary blindness. I screamed from the pain I was in, and I could hear others screaming as well... all of the survivors of Kalaborea were screaming as one. A scream that was both on a physical and psychic level, and because I had been linked to their hive mind when the gem was finally destroyed I could feel their pain as they perished. I was not able to see how they died, but by the sounds of my companions' reactions I knew it had to be a gruesome end indeed. I passed out, unable to bear the pain I was in any longer, and I could hear the volcano beginning to erupt. Earthquakes sounded within the ground, and the island was beginning to warp and shift once again. I would not survive, to see this!

   When I regained consciousness, I was back on the ship bound for more familiar shores once again. I was able to see, and could not help but notice that the skin on my right hand was now jet black but had no scars or burn marks upon it anywhere. The duchess Kar'mila explained to me: “Believe me, it looked a lot worse before I used a little magic to heal the burns and stop the bleeding. It will always be black I am afraid though... there was some dark sorcery indeed at work within that jewel, and some of it bound itself into your very being, in ways that I have never seen the like of before. You are lucky to be alive!” I sat up in the bed I was lying in, the one in the cabin I shared with the duchess on our ship. “What in the world happened back there?” I asked, and she told me: “We thought you died, but felt it only fair to bring your body back with us all the same. Leave no one behind, I always say! Besides, the boy was a bit certain you'd pull through. He's a perceptive lad, that is for sure. Anyway, those fiends all perished in ways I doubt you'd like to hear the full details of... as if torn apart by unseen creatures. And the island tore itself apart as well, as we fled it... we just barely got back to the ship and put out to sea in time to escape it. I never in all my years saw anything like that! The volcano erupted, there were earthquakes, things emerged from the ground, and the weather kept changing rapidly. Rain, snow, hail, you name it! All at once. As if the place was being... managed somehow... by that jewel you smashed. I'd wager that was the only thing that was holding it all together to start with! Power like that... it is best that you did put an end to it.” I sat in silence for a bit, trying to process all that I had been through, and all that I had just been told. “Where are we bound?” I asked, and the duchess explained: “To go see your Deirdre... I think she'd welcome a visit from you, and I suspect she'd also like to welcome me as your new partner. Yes, I plan to stay with you, and wed you officially so our two houses can be joined as one. Let us face the facts! You are crazy about me, and I've grown fond of you. Besides, in our society one can have as many husbands or wives as they like, so long as they can take care of them properly. And I am utterly, filthy rich my Lord! In ways that you cannot possibly begin to imagine. Rich, and fabulous!” and that she was. I did not tell her no... I could never tell her no. I thought for a bit about where we might live, in the years to come following our wedding, which I must confess I was quite looking forward to. And so I asked her: “Darling... and I shall call you my darling henceforth... once we are bound together as one in marriage, where should we live? I mean, either you could move to my lands or I could move to your own. Deirdre would be alright with either decision, and my stewards will continue to run things for me back in my own lands should you decide I should come live with you. So what are your thoughts on the matter?” and she tapped her chin with her index finger a bit, thinking about it as she sat down upon the bed next to me, caressing my hair with her other hand. “Let me see... we will go to Eriu! I have lands of such great unsurpassed beauty there, where my ancestors reigned before me, and they are truly the likes of which you have never seen before. And the servant girls... and the boys... are so beautiful, I think you will like them waiting upon you. So many pretty redheads just like me! And there are reasons why they call it the green isle, my lover. Ever seen a shamrock? You will! And the only folk who dwell there at present aside from my people are the Fir Bolg, and they were there before all others it is said. Mostly, they keep to the woods and forests that are their homes, and we've an easy peace with them. Their kind call me by the name Kaitlin, so if you like that better than Kar'mila you can always call me that if you like. Totally up to you, of course! What do you say?” and I agreed to her proposal. “Eriu it is, my sweet Kaitlin! It sounds enchanting to me. In fact, I shall also have my stewards put up a proclamation stating that any of my people, in my lands, who wish to accompany me when I move to your homeland of Eriu may do so in order to share in our happiness. Incidentally... I do not know if I ever told you this but my name, that is my full name, is Balor Dubh.” The duchess looked at my black right hand, and smiled in an ironic way. “Dubh means 'black'. Now your hand fits well with your name, my Lord Balor! I knew your first name, but until now not your second name.” She then kissed me long and passionately. The ship took us forth over the waves, into a future that had much promise, for ourselves and our peoples.
Written by Kou_Indigo (Kara L. Pythiana-Ashton)
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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