Hæ. Þetta er smásaga (fyrsti partur af) sem ég er að skrifa. Hún er á ensku, afsakið (ég hef einfaldlega betri tök á ensku en ísl).

Þetta gerist í ímynduðum heimi mínum sem ég kalla “The rift”. Fantasíu heimur sem hallar meira til kraftaverka og leyndardóma frekar en hoppandi álfa og fireball-blastandi galdrakalla.


The runner’s trek had gone smoothly. His feet pounded the stone floors of the tunnel with relative ease. Most men would have given up by now, too tired to continue or too cowardly to traverse the tunnel’s darkness. It didn’t matter, not to him, his eyes were unnecessary for now in the pitch-black. His other senses had provided just fine, letting him ‘feel’ his environment. The tunnel was nearing its end, a dim light emanating from up ahead. He emerged and immediately covered his eyes with his arm, the light having been greater than he anticipated. Still shielding himself from the source of the light, he fumbled around in the leather satchel hanging off his shoulder and withdrew something. He placed it over his eyes and viewed the world through the red lenses of his goggles.
The runner surveyed his surroundings. His torso glistened with sweat; no wonder, he thought, he’d been running for days without end. He stood outside a rock formation surrounded by untold miles of black sand. It was the ‘Black Wastes’; he’d emerged at the right place. He cast his gaze upwards, to the unwelcome light source. It was the primary moon, its smaller counterpart nowhere to be found. The runner grimaced, disapproving of it’s presence but quickly turned his attention elsewhere, he needed to focus on the road ahead.
After picking a direction, he began to stare off into the distance. He relaxed his shoulders and he let his breathing became shallow as if entering a trance. His vision blurred slightly, and then shot outward towards to the horizon, as if he had become free from his body. His vision shot out further and further, racing across the landscape of the desert. Sands, rock and the occasional patch of dirt flew past him at blinding speed until finally, it slowed, its target found. He had found it. Nestled in the roots of a small mountain, he saw the stone structure he had been seeking. His vision snapped violently back into his own body, forcing him to re-gather his senses. He glanced at the moon again and then, with a powerful kick from his cloven feet, he darted off in the direction of the structure. He was running out of time…

* * *

Shackled to the cold and rough stone walls of a small prison cell hung a thin, almost skeletal man. Bathed by the moonlight shining from the ceiling window, his head hung low and he did not move. His frame had always been a slim one, even before his incarceration, but it had once possessed great vigor. The many years inside this prison had taken their toll, mentally and physically, and what now remained looked like a warped parody of the human body, soon set to die.
This had sparked a series of bets by the prison’s guards, bets on how much longer he would last. Even now, two of the red-hooded monsters loomed outside the cell, working out the details of one such wager. The man inside, whose blank facial features had become hidden beneath a rough mass of unkempt hair through time, had acquired the nickname of “the Gardener” for reasons unknown to the prison staff. His crime, the reason for his imprisonment, had become shrouded in mystery, but the guards whispered amongst themselves that it must have been a great crime indeed.
The rattling of keys caused the two guards to cease their conversation and turn their attention to further down the torch lit corridor. A noise told them that someone was coming nearer and judging from the heavy jingling sound, they knew it could only be one man.
“Warden Caleb!” One of the guards saluted, then bowed his head in supplication.
Without answering, the warden stepped closer, entering the torch-light. Like the guards, the warden’s face was hidden. Resting on his head sat an uncomfortable looking helmet made of dark metal, shaped like the executioner’s hoods worn by the prison guards. It was a symbol of rank and moreover a reminder of the burdens and responsibilities he had to bear.
A few more steps and he was standing by the guards, towering at least one head above them. After glancing into the Gardener’s cell briefly, the warden spoke at last in his stern voice,
“Guard.” he said. Not really remembering this man’s name. “Why has this man been shackled against the walls? I didn’t order this.” He paused for breath and then continued. “Perhaps, you’d care to explain?”
Lies formed in the guard’s mind as he fidgeted nervously and tried to avoid the warden’s gaze, but to no avail. In fact, he discovered that he was unable to look at anything but the warden’s eyes. But as he stared into the warden’s coal-black eyes, all the lies seemed to escape his mind and he remembered that the warden almost always seemed to know lies from the truth anyway.
“I- I just wanted to see him slumped against the walls,” the guard offered finally. The warden nodded grimly, but he knew that this was only half the truth.
“And you… Nestor was it? You supported this?” the warden said as he turned his attention to the other guard. He remembered this one’s name as he was of higher rank thank the others. He was the equivalent of a quartermaster, responsible for feeding the prisoners.
“No, sir. This is news to me.” the other guard blurted.
“Liar!” yelled the warden and shot out an arm, grabbing Nestor’s throat, beginning to crush it as he pushed the guard brutally up against the walls. “I’ll tell you what I believe!” he boomed. “You two are trying to make sure that the prisoner dies as soon as possible, making sure one of your ‘bets’ goes in your favor!” His rage intensified as the guard in his hand began gasping for air.
But as suddenly as the warden had erupted into anger, he calmed and with one powerful motion tossed the man aside to the floor, where he landed sprawling on his back.
“Know this; nothing happens in Carnate without my command. Nothing!” the warden growled, pointing a finger at the guard lying on the floor.
“Remember this and contemplate your actions as you turn yourselves in to the Castigator for… disciplining.”
Nestor, despite having only caught his breath, started to object with a “Wha-” but was quickly interrupted by the other guardsman, who was already dragging him off his back and away.
“Yes, Warden Caleb! Immediately! Please forgive us!” the first guard said, obviously knowing that it was better to obey the warden than not to.
After watching the pair drag each other off, he looked again to the Gardener’s cell and then grinned as he reached for the large key-ring pressing heavily into his side. Another reason for him to enter the cell at last.
After opening the rust-covered iron door the warden stood before the wretched man shackled to the walls. With morbid fascination, he stared at the man, whose circumstances would’ve made him a fantastic subject for a piece of artwork, or so he thought. Looking upwards, through the window, the warden noticed the nearly full-moon.
“Only three days until the eclipse… if the astrologers are to be trusted.” the warden mused, before unlocking the shackles in which the Gardener was bound.
With a steady hand, the warden grabbed the Gardener, preventing him from collapsing onto the floor before lowering him gently down. Suddenly, the Gardener stirred, throwing his head back against the wall and inhaling deeply before un-curling into a more relaxed posture.
“Warden Caleb, you have my greatest thanks!” the man then coughed out in a voice that showed hints of refinement. “That was most uncomfortable” he continued as he locked eyes with the warden. They were the same coal-black as his.
“Save your thanks, prisoner. There are strict rules in Carnate for all to follow. In here, I am the Lord and master. Those who forget this answer to me personally and in blood.” said Caleb with a hint of pride in his voice.
“Ah, but you’ve broken the rules yourself, from time to time.” stated the Gardener who seemed to enjoy the bewildered look now on the warden’s face. ”Fraternizing with a prisoner is against regulations, if I remember correctly, and these ‘chats’ of ours are becoming increasingly frequent.”.
That much was true, the warden realized. It was against the regulations set forth by the Conclave to speak with prisoners unnecessarily, much less fraternizing and in recent months, he had seized nearly every opportunity available to speak with or to be around the Gardener. He had developed a curiosity in this odd little man who was a mystery to everyone in Carnate. No one seemed to know anything about him, where he came from, what his real name was or even why he had been imprisoned. And why was he the only prisoner who was never moved closer to “the mouth” of the prison, into a new cell, closer to freedom as all the others were? The only one who likely knew the answers to those questions was the Gardener himself, being one of the few inmates still alive since Caleb had assumed command of the prison. Stirring from his brief reminiscing of why he had become so intrigued by this man, the warden grinned slightly.
“Well then, I suppose I shall just have to call this time an unscheduled interrogation.” Perhaps it was time to bend the rules just a little, he thought.
The Gardener chuckled slightly over the pain in his joints, “Very well, as the warden wishes. Question for a question, just like the times before?” he asked and the warden nodded slowly. “And what shall be our topic today, dear Warden? The past perhaps? Yes, this shall be an interesting topic!”
Caleb shuddered slightly. The Gardener had chosen an uncomfortable topic. His past was his own business and no one else’s. But then again, this was the best chance he’d had to gain real information so far and any knowledge of the Gardener’s past was like candy to him. He had to learn more of it, even if he had to give away his own secrets in trade for the prisoner’s.
“I’ll go first, as always.” said the Gardener and inhaled deeply. “The scars covering your body, the ones you think you’re hiding beneath that metal harness of yours and your leather tunic. They’re from a war… which war?”
The warden was shocked. A perceptive man might’ve seen one or two of his scars through his iron-hood, but to know that they covered his entire body? And that they came from fighting in a war!? How was it possible? And why did the Gardener seem to bend every topic to the discussion of pain and battles? But he quickly stopped trying to solve such unanswerable mysteries and instead replied to the question now directed at him.
“The Black Iron Wars”, he said reluctantly.
The Gardener grinned. “The heretic wars, you mean… killed a lot of people on the wrong side of the faith, did you?” the Gardener said as he licked his lips awaiting an answer.
“I’ve answered your question. It’s time for mine.” the warden said grimly. “You possess intelligence and mannerisms not found in common folk or farmers, what did you do before coming here?”
The Gardener’s gaze became distant, as if lost in a painful memory. “I salvaged lives from a fate worse than the cruelest death and I destroyed twice as many lives, all in the name of “Ey-yohlun-eh-kal.” the Gardener said flatly.
Ey-yohlun-eh-kal. It was a name for certain, but of what? It sounded familiar, but for the time being, it escaped the warden’s memory. And the rest of the Gardener’s answer was equally cryptic. Salvaged lives? He remembered that priests had often been referred to as “Salvagers” as the holy men spent their lives guiding the un-worthy on the proper paths, paths which ensured that their souls would continue to exist in the realms beyond. But contrasting this, he claimed to have been a “destroyer”. None in the entire world destroyed as many lives as warriors, reckoned the warden. With each cut of a blade, each life taken, an entire family could be devastated, their lives forever ruined. And for a brief moment, the term “warrior-priest” drifted through the warden’s mind.
“What sort of cryptic non-sen-“ the warden was cut off as his attention was drawn to the whistling of an approaching guard, perhaps only a few corners away. He turned towards the exit.
“Another day, Gardener.” he said as he started to make his way out of the cell.
But just as he had reached the door, it all dawned on him. Memories stirred, names and meanings he had near-forgotten all became clear again and his head snapped towards the window where the moon shone peacefully.
“Ey-yohlun-eh-kal… the lunatic god!?” gasped the warden as he focused on the Gardener again. “You’re a heretic!? No, worse, a ‘Lunatic’ even! You-“ but he didn’t finish the sentence, the approaching guard was too close now. The warden stepped out of the cell and shut the door gently.
“You will find that the word heretic gains a different meaning when you’re on the other side, dear warden. Your heretics were our heroes.” said the Gardener whose face now seemed darker and more sinister to the warden, with an evil glint in his eyes.
“Oh and by the way, warden!” called the Gardener at last as Caleb began to walk off. “Your astrologers can indeed be trusted. Ey-yohlun-eh-kal will abandon us for a short while in three days. You will have your ‘eclipse’, but that will be the least of your worries I’m afraid!” said the gardener, now cackling with delight.
Warden Caleb strode off, the revelation of the Gardener’s true nature weighing heavily upon his soul. Perhaps that man did deserve to be locked up forever in there.

The Priest and the memories

The Warden stood in his quarters, having gone there after the conversation with the Gardener. From the tower in which they were located, which shot off from the main complex, he gazed through a large window which gave him a good view of the entire facility. Carnate was built as an immense corridor upon hills at the roots of a mountain. The so called “mouth” was Carnate’s only entrance and only exit. It spawned a long hallway with cells built into the sides along with other rooms. Guard quarters, torture chambers and the like all existed at regular intervals here and there in the corridor, with the warden’s, and higher ranking staff’s, quarters at the very end. Prisoners were transferred from their cells each year to a cell closer to the mouth, closer to freedom as a measure of hope. Those who reached the end were free men, no questions asked. From here, he could even estimate where the Gardener’s cell was located. A knock on the warden’s door interrupted his survey.
“Enter.” he said and turned his attention to the door. Entering was an elderly, stocky man dressed in the somewhat ceremonial clothes. The usual leather tunic worn by most of the staff was adorned with gilded letters of religious importance, signifying the wearer’s servitude to the avatars. Occasional patches of dried blood were visible on the attire and various tools hung from a belt fastened snugly around the man’s waist. The man stepped closer to Caleb, walking carefully. His steps made no sound upon the smooth stone surface.
“Castigator Aldren.” the warden said in acknowledgement and bowed his head.
“Good evening, Warden Caleb” replied the older man. “There’s no need for bowing is there? You outrank me here, remember that.”
Caleb raised his eyebrows in surprise, “I may outrank you, but you’re still a priest. That earns you my respect in the very least.”
Hearing this, the older man smiled warmly, adding more wrinkles to his face. “It’s good to know that you hold our profession in such high esteem, Caleb. Our kind has lost a lot of prestige since the war…” The priest became thoughtful for a moment. “The looks some people gave me in the streets afterwards… like I was a murderer or something from the hells.”
There was a short silence in the room. “I assume you came to me for something?” Caleb said to break it.
“Ah yes, several things, in fact. First, the two ‘hoods’ you sent my way earlier have been dealt with; I doubt they’ll be issuing their own orders anytime soon.”
“Nothing too severe, I hope?” replied Caleb, though he really didn’t care. It was more of a show of courtesy..
“No, no. Not at all, just a few carefully worded threats and a run of the belt,” replied the priest and chuckled as he patted the side of his belt, where hung a small whip. “They’ll resume their duties tomorrow.”
“Good. What else?”
“I’m afraid that, prisoner number nine in the ‘two years’ area died in my workshop today.”
“I see,” the warden replied. “By your hand?” asked Caleb in surprise. The priest laughed at the question.
“I should hope not!” he got out. “He was one of the penitent ones. I was in the middle of one of my lessons in civility when he just… keeled over, coughed up a bit of blood and…” Aldren shrugged. “Well… he just died, I guess,” said Aldren apathetically. It was like he was speaking about an object rather than a person, a cog in a machine that had broken.
“It’s odd, really. He had seemed fined the day before,” continued Aldren as he stared at the floor. “And he was such an enthusiastic learner too. He probably would have made a good worker had he gotten out.”
“I assume he’s been made ready for his funeral then?” asked Caleb as the priest finished.
“Well, no. You see, upon examining his body, I discovered gray patches of flesh that appeared ‘rotted’, so I thought it better to consult you before taking any further action.
“Disease? Burn him immediately then, I’ll have no chance of outbreak in my prison, we’ll conduct the funeral rites tomorrow,” commanded the warden, his voice having picked up. “Was there anything else?”
“I suppose not,” replied the priest. “Although… I would like to know how your training is progressing.”
“My training?” echoed the warden, pondering how best to answer. “My training is going as well as can be expected. I am finding it much easier now to slip into the ‘first trance’, although… I am having difficulty with some places. There are… areas where I have not the strength to look.”
“Difficulty?” said the priest and frowned a bit. “Your inability to see inside yourself is most likely a result of fear. You are loathe to face what lurks inside you for fear that it will consume you.” preached the old man. “Release your fears Caleb, if you cannot know yourself, you cannot know the gods.” The old man stepped closer to Caleb and placed his hand reassuringly on his shoulder. “Looking into one’s soul is never easy, Caleb. But I will remind you of the urgency involved here. Every prison needs a ‘salvager’ and I shall not be here forever, you know that.” After a moment of silence, the priest broke off from Caleb. “I shall leave you to it then,” he said and silently made his way towards the door. “Sleep well, warden and be careful,” he said at last before closing the door behind him.
Caleb walked towards his desk. A few books were lined against the walls, sheets of paper lay scattered on the desk’s surface and a quill rested in an inkwell. He picked out a leather-bound book from the bundle. It was the prison logbook. He turned its yellowed pages until he found the entry he was looking for; Andrei Baxter. The entry read; current location; “Prisoner 9, year two. Crime was minor (rape), sentence; three years. Additional punishment shall be the removal of the offending extremity as well as weekly flogging. Re-education suggested.” The warden took the quill in his hand and added a short clause; “Death occurred one year into the sentence. Likely cause of death was disease. Body was burned, funeral rites carried out on the following day.”
As the ink dried, the warden idly let the pages roll around in his hands before turning it to the very first page. There was first entry, and entry he had not made himself. It read; “Unknown name. Current location: year thirty, number 1. Crime: unlisted. Sentence: Imprisonment until further notice. No unnecessary torture. No unwarranted treatment.” It was the Gardener’s entry. Crime unlisted… the warden thought to himself. “Heretic, more like it… but why don’t they want anyone to find out?” Closing the book, the warden called it a day. It was late, he was warden no more. It was time for more personal matters, those which Aldren had spoken of.
Fear? He asked himself as he undid the straps of his ‘Iron-hood’ and got up removing the cumbersome headgear, placing it upon the desk. He arose and undid the three straps of his tunic next, before sliding out of it. He looked over his body. A balding, muscle-ridden man, his skin was riddled with scars. Each scar had its own tale, a tale forged somewhere in the horrors of war. Each scar was a reminder that he had seen the worst that humanity had to offer and that he feared those horrors no more. Each scar was strength. Large bruises stained his shoulders, the two points where the ‘Iron-hood’ rested. The thing weighed as much as a young man. But the bruises too, were a source of great pride. “Fear?” he asked himself again. “What, by all the gods, do you fear, warden?” he said as he moved to his bed, where he sat down, taking a few deep breaths to ready himself. “Let’s find out…” He relaxed and began to let himself slip into the ‘first trance’. The world around him darkened, eventually fading into obscurity.

* * *

A black haze obscured his vision. Vague images of people, locations and objects floated all around him. The color seemed to have bled from everything; the place was devoid of life. It was his memory.
The “first trance” was a technique taught exclusively amongst priests of the Conclave. It allowed priests to enter into their own minds, to explore their psyche, their pasts, and their very soul. It was commonly said amongst the priests that knowledge of the self was the first step in knowing the gods. Only when one had seen the worst that one’s soul had to offer would the gods acknowledge you and grant their gifts and visions. It was a learning experience; for it forced priests to face truths about themselves they would rather have forgotten. For Caleb, this was proving difficult.
The more recent memories were no problem; they floated about him even now. The lying guards, the mad cackle of the Gardener and even the moment he awoke this morning. It was time to go further back. The silhouettes whirred past him, older memories surfaced. He found himself in a pleasant memory. The day he had become warden, that was a splendid day. Caleb remembered the pride he felt as he was handed the keys and the feeling of power that came when the prison staff bowed their heads to him. But this was not what he was looking for. He went further back.
He found himself no longer as Warden Caleb, but as a warrior, standing in a large auditorium. Black, tiled floors surrounded the foundations of three obsidian podiums, where stood three hooded men in dark robes, each masterfully tailored, adorned with gilded texts and imagery. Their faces were hidden deep within their hoods. Caleb was kneeling before the three men and armed guards in the traditional Conclave uniforms were scattered all around. “Ah yes. The day I came before the ‘triumvirate’.” mused Caleb.
One of the hooded men stepped closer to the podium on Caleb’s left.
“Caleb Clemens!” said the man in a mirthful voice. “While you are a mere conscript in our armed forces, who even now put the rest of the heretics to their deaths, you have come to bear the title of ‘war-hero’. Your commanders speak of you fondly, claiming that…” the hooded man moved a finger to a piece of parchment on his podium and quoted; “… without his efforts, the city of Virk would undoubtedly still be under siege,” The man paused for a while. “Is this true?”
The warrior Caleb replied. “I find my commander’s lack of faith in the might of the Conclave forces unsettling… I did only as commanded, to the best of my abilities.”
“Modesty… does not suit you. I believe some form of merit is in order,” said the hooded man and motioned to the dark-robed man at the center podium, before stepping backwards into the shadows. The figure at the center podium stepped forth and spoke.
“Indeed! You shall receive just that,” said the middle-speaker in a stern tone, sounding as if he was passing judgment on Caleb rather than granting rewards. “Henceforth, you shall be known as ‘Watcher’ of the Conclave. You are no longer a peasant, no longer a conscript… you are to be one of us, a full citizen.”
Caleb, viewing the memory through the eyes of his older self felt his vision surge upwards to face the three men. The feeling of pride and awe he had experienced at that moment came flowing back. This was a grand reward. He would be ‘an elite’ of society, a person with power, resources, land even.
“The Triumvirate humbles me with its generosity. I am truly grateful.”
“A citizen with responsibilities,” continued the middle-speaker. “A great boon has been bestowed upon you. You will work to maintain your status,” the middle-speaker motioned towards the rightmost dark-robed man, before stepping back as the first had done. The third speaker stepped forth.
“A lot of people were lost in the wars, valuable people. There are positions that need filling, positions of importance.” Caleb could not see the speaker’s face, but gathered that he was older than the other two. His voice sounded shallow and breathless; almost like a whisper.
“The prison ‘Carnate’ stands without a warden, unacceptable; you will serve as its warden. While not the most prestigious position one of your newfound status could attain, it shall have to do, for now. Its temporary custodian, priest Aldren will relinquish command and serve as you mentor for the remainder of his stay there. This entails clerical teachings… you will also assume the role of a priest in the Conclaves’ name.” said the ‘old speaker’ in a monotonous stream. As he finished, light gasps could be heard from some of the surrounding guards.
The warrior Caleb had been breathless. Not only was he to become a citizen, but to attain the rank of priest, one of the greatest and most prestigious positions available in all of the Conclaves’ lands. Priests would gain access to the mystic teachings of the ‘avatars’. The teachings were said to grant priests unfathomable powers, powers which made them into something beyond mere mortals. Some priests were said to have lifted tons of rock in zealous frenzy while others were told to be able to impose their own wills upon throngs of people, controlling them like puppets.
As the warrior Caleb was lead out of the chamber, the Warden Caleb realized that this, while a favored memory of his, was not why he was here. It was time to head further back. Again, a flurry of faded images rushed past him. It was becoming harder for him to maintain his focus… he was getting close. As he went deeper into his past, his vision faded to near nothingness. The hazy memories became nearly incoherent until at last… there was the darkness he had searched for. A black bubble drifted ahead of him, a wall that had erected itself around a portion of his memory. As he looked at it, trying to pierce the dark veil, pain shot into his head, further eroding Caleb’s grasp of his senses.
Found you! Caleb thought as he reached out to touch the bubble. It felt solid as a rock and just as cold. Dim memories behind Caleb reflected on its smooth, black surface. “You’ve eluded me for a while now, whatever you are, but no more. I need what’s in there…” he said as he pulled his arm back, clenching his hand into a fist. “Now… yield!” he yelled as he began to hammer at the bubble with his imagined hands, now a proxy of his willpower.
Nothing… The bubble did not break, it did not even bend. Each blow to the bubble came echoing back into Caleb’s mind as a sharp, throbbing pain… and those odd streaks of sorrow and joy, things he truly had not experienced in years. It was like he was attacking himself. The amount of effort that it took for Caleb to maintain his journey was taxing him, taking most of his mental effort, but he was certain he could break through. But it would mean losing control over the trance. After a short period of rest, he had decided. He was master of his own mind, in here, as in the prison, his will should be uncontested. “A rough ride… that’s how you want it?” he said and laughed, drowning the stabbing pain in his head. “Fine,” Caleb again drew his arm back and with his other arm, formed a hammer with his fists. “I said, yield!” he roared as he let go his control over the dream-trance and hammered the black bubble with all his focus, all his might. The bubble instantly burst into dozens of black patches.
Darkness engulfed Caleb. He had lost control. Wild currents of memories began to wash him about in an ever growing maelstrom of chaos. But it had been worth it, for a brief moment, Caleb had seen what rested inside the bubble. A field of dead people, stretching as far as the eye could see. Dozens of soldiers did battle, the sound of metal on metal as their weapons collided. As the chaos washed over Caleb, pushing him out of his trance, he found himself both content and furious. The black patch in his memory was now dispelled, the source of his weakness revealed. It was the ‘Black Iron War’. It was the same place as which he drew his strength from.

The battle of Virk

“Preposterous!” the warden grumbled as he opened his eyes in the real world, immediately wishing he hadn’t. It was bright outside and the light stung Caleb’s eyes. Before long, a dark shape stepped between Caleb and the light. The gilded tunic was a dead giveaway as to who it was. Caleb looked up to focus on the face of Castigator Aldren, who was scowling disapprovingly.
“You lost control,” he said gruffly, an aura of menace hanging in the air around him.
“I found what I was looking for… it was worth it,” replied Caleb as he raised himself upwards. He was lying in his bed. No sooner had he uttered the sentence before Aldren lashed out and struck him with his fists.
“It is never worth it, you magnificent fool!” he roared as he grabbed Caleb by the collar and began dragging him towards the desk with surprising ease. Despite his age, the man seemed unnaturally strong. Bewildered, Caleb tried to respond, anger brewing at the way he was being handled.
“What in the hells are you do-, “ Caleb stopped as they reached the mirror, catching a glimpse of himself in it. The strong and proud man he had seen the night before was gone, replaced with “this”. Dried blood stained the areas below Caleb’s nose, his eyes and ears. He was pale as a ghost and hung somewhat limply as he stood there, supported only by Aldren. He felt weak.
“I warned you…” said the priest in a patronizing voice. “This is what happens to the body… when you lose control. Had I not arrived when I did, you would most likely be dead.”
Shocked at seeing the wretch in the mirror, it was some time before Caleb replied.
“I thought I could take it… I thought I was strong enough,” he said meekly.
Aldren released his hold on the warden, allowing him to stand on his own. “Well now you know better, don’t you?
The warden nodded and paced slowly towards the other side of the desk, his ‘Iron-hood’ rested. He began to reach for it, but was stopped by Aldren, who grabbed his hands firmly and pushed them away.
“You’re in no condition to adorn the hood for now. Rest a spell, reflect on your mistake. I will attend the prison in the meantime,” said the priest, his voice now having lost its gruffness. The Castigator walked towards the door, stopping just short of leaving.
“You are fortunate to have survived… most never learn first-hand why they need to maintain control in the ‘first trance’,” he said, now smiling lightly. “And you say you have discovered that which is eluding you? At least some good has come of this then. What is it… if you don’t mind me asking?”
The warden paced over to his bed, where he sat down and rubbed his numb shoulders.
“The Black Iron War,” he said and laughed, mocking his own words. “I saw a battlefield, a field I had forgotten until now,” the warden let the words linger a while before continuing. “It was just outside the city of Virk, where the heretics made their final assault.”
The Castigator “hmmm’d” with intrigue. “Then your next task is to explore that memory further. There’s something there which is holding you back, something you’re afraid of. It is time to conquer it and move onward. When all the barriers in your mind have fallen, you will be open to new teachings…But you will not do so now, you are weakened and I’d rather not see you die… I have such high hopes for you, Caleb.”
“Thank you, Aldren. I shall do my best not to displease you again,” said Caleb, avoiding the old man’s eyes.
“I’ll bring you some food later,” said the priest at last and left, closing the door, with a squeak, behind him. Caleb let himself collapse onto the bed and rested.

* * *

It was darker when he awoke. Looking outside his window, Caleb could see the sun’s last rays lick the surface. Opposite of it, hovering above the horizon, was the moon, slowly arching its way after the sun. He arose from his bed, a slight pain surfacing in his legs… a remainder of his ‘failed trance’ earlier. Caleb shook off the pain, dismissing it as weakness leaving the body. After getting up, he stepped towards his window and gazed for a moment upon the ‘Black Waste’, letting his eyes dart between the moon and the fading sun.
A plate filled with food caught his eye. It was sitting on his desk covered with sausages, cheese and a bit of bread. “Food, delivered to my bed?” he thought as he snatched a bit of the bread into his hand. “Perhaps I should attempt to kill myself more often.”.
The memories of the trance were still eluding him. He had thought he remembered all that was worth remembering, after all; he was a hero of that war. He realized however, that the events he remembered were foggy, there were pieces missing. Those pieces had barricaded themselves deep within the recesses of his own mind. Caleb thought hard and reflected upon that which he could remember. He had been but a boy when he first entered the wars, which had spanned 12 years. He remembered the day they had come for him.
Two men in dark-leather tunics sporting the holy symbols of the Conclave had barged into his father’s house. His elderly father had fled into the basement just moments before. Caleb’s mother wept, aware of something dire which Caleb did not. They grabbed Caleb, saying the boy was needed, and began to pull him out of the house, out of his mother’s arms, which held onto him as tightly as she could, until one of the men had struck her with his fist… Silenced, she sat sobbing on the floor as she watched her child be dragged off to fight in ‘some stupid war’ as she had called it. As the two men reached the exit his father had come limping out of the basement, nearly falling in the process, carrying a large curved blade in his arms. Seeing the blade, the two men had released Caleb and drawn long daggers from their belts, pointing the weapons at Caleb’s father.
“No! You idiot-bastard-maniacs!” his father had said. “No son of mine is gonna be cut down for your war!” He howled in hatred and then charged at the two men, wielding the immense weapon. “He will not die as just fodder, like the rest of them!”
But despite his impressive weapon, the elderly man was no match for two trained warriors, who wielded nothing but daggers. They flanked him, making sure he could not keep his eyes on both at the same time. Caleb noted the dried blood on their daggers; his father had apparently not been the first to resist. With shallow cuts and thrusts, the jabbed their weapons into his father’s side, weakening him and wearing him down until he fell, the blade clattering to the ground. They kicked the blade away and it slid towards Caleb.
The two men, content with their work, left the elderly man to his wounds and again made their way to the exit. One of the men stopped in front of Caleb.
“Take it!” he commanded. “It’s better than anything we’ll ever give you.”
“But!” responded young Caleb and eyed the blade, huge as it was by his own standards. “It’s too large! I can’t wield it,” he said, disappointed at having to turn down the weapon.
“Then grow stronger, ye stupid boy!” grumbled his father, now with tears in his eyes as he bled. “If anyone is going to kill one of our family, ye’re gonna make’em earn that kill!”
And with blade in hand, young Caleb had left, having seen his family for the last time.
The memory raised questions in Caleb’s mind, one question in specific burned through; …where was it? He had been very fond of that sword. Much too big for a boy of his age, it had forced him to become stronger, quickly, lest he fall to his enemies. And as his skill and strength grew with it, the sword had earned him many nick-names amongst the rest of his conscript friends. “Man-cleaver”, “splitter” and “armor-thrasher” had been the most popular ones. It had forged him into the warrior he was today, an elite fighter. So where was the blade now? He wondered this as he paced about his room, frantically, scouring his possessions, looking for it. There weren’t a lot of things he had brought back with him from the war. His title as ‘Watcher’ and the battle-scars excluded, of course. He had only brought that single bag of ‘spoils’, loot stolen from his enemies. Had it been broken and placed in there? Caleb rushed over to his bed and knelt down beside it, pulling a large sack from under it.
The contents were various and random, but could have been called “a thief’s fortune”. Jewelry of varying designs, precious stones, a few war-badges and assorted, miscellaneous items. But there was no blade, no piece of it. But another item caught Caleb’s eye, a book. He removed it from the sack and held it in front of himself. Its vine-red leather exterior adorned with small pebbles of obsidian marked it as a book of importance as not even the rich would squander money on such an exotically crafted thing without it having some meaning.
“What are you? I don’t remember you…” he said out loud as he tilted, skewed and rotated the book, searching his memory for answers on where this little piece had come from.
“Wait… yes I do. You’re from back then, aren’t you? When I killed-“ he could not finish the sentence, something was holding him back. But he remembered something.
It was the battlefield, the hills just outside of Virk.
Again, he viewed the world through his warrior self, as if he had slipped into the ‘first trance’ without effort. He looked downwards, upon blood-stained hands. Below his hands lay the vine-red book. His breathing was hard and moisture condensed in the cold air as he exhaled. All around him, his unit lay dead. Each man and woman’s face twisted in agony, telling the tale of a painful death. They had to have been painful, given their conditions. Some were amputated, others torn apart, their limbs scattered about and a few looked torn completely in two. Others still were missing their eyes and it looked as if they had gauged them out on their own. Ropy vines snaked through the foliage of the battlefield, entangling the bodies which lay amongst the weeds and the flowers.
It was night, but as the younger Caleb looked towards the sky, he could not find the moon, as it hid behind dark clouds, the only illumination now being the still lit torches held by the dead. He was alone, hiding behind a grassy knoll. Fear gripped him, he was fleeing. He was being hunted.
Book in hand; the young Caleb was startled at the sound of cackling laughter and screams of agony followed by a fleshy “tearing” sound followed by the splashing of liquid on soil, during which the screaming stopped. The young Caleb leaned out from his concealment for just a second, looking in the direction of the sounds. And there, he looked upon the back of a tall, muscular man. His dark hair was wild and scruffy, like a lion’s mane. Naked from the waist up, the man wore only brown linen britches. His clothing was the least of Caleb’s concerns however as another feature caught Caleb’s eye. It was impossible… Caleb’s eyes played tricks on him, they had to be. For the half-naked man’s skin glowed dimly, as if surrounded by a nimbus of pale light. It had to be a trick of the eye. The man held his arms out and in each hand he held a piece of another man, the torso in one hand and the rest in his other. Entrails still connected the two pieces which seemed to glisten in the man’s radiance.
“Heretic-witch…!” Caleb whispered in disbelief and looked away in disgust and confusion. “I need to get out of here!” he thought quickly and started to get up. But as another mad cackle boomed from the “witch-man”, his nerve gave in and he slouched down to the ground, quivering. The madman eventually fought to contain his laughing and yelled into the sky; “Boy! You’re the last one left *heh*… Come out now… I’ll promise to make it quick if you give me *heh*… give me back my book… But, then again, maybe not. This night screams for vengeance!”
“Surrender to a murdering ‘Lunatic’!?” Caleb muttered, but felt a sense of hypocrisy in his own words. He began again to move away from the “demon”, caring little for direction, so long as it went away from him. Moving as quietly as he could, he began creeping away. But his heart sunk when the “witch-man” spoke again. “I can hea- *heh* hear you, boy! You should have listened to me! Now I’m going to tear you limb from limb!” he said, almost gurgling, and broke into yet another fit of laughter and Caleb heard the madman move, pacing his way towards him..
The memory faded into obscurity as Caleb ran, chased by the “Witch-man”.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Warden Caleb recomposed himself and breathed deeply. The memory had been so vivid, he had again felt the fear he from back then. If the memory was true, then truly, the world held greater mysteries than Caleb could have dreamed of… or had been told of. There were other magicks, other “powers” than the Conclave claimed. Un-worldly powers wielded by the heretics… Was this the reason he had forgotten most of the war? Had he seen too much?
Caleb held the book high. “Most interesting, book.. Perhaps you hold the answers I seek?” He sat down by his desk, placing the book upon it, opened. Grabbing a mushroom from the plate Aldren had brought him earlier, he began to read.
EvE Online: Karon Wodens