Ariion Kathleen Brindley


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Doomstone

by August Hunt

Prologue




       The Soulmender Taul had been born in the Tower of the Keep of Ashroud and had never set forth outside. For five hundred and thirty seven years he had dedicated himself to the single purpose of guarding the Doomstones. Now it was time for him to leave.        He stood on the wall of the Tower, arms raised in supplication to the sky. His robe, woven of the blue of the the heavens, the brown of the earth, the green of the sea, flapped in the wind. White hair like clouds or snow or foam whipped his face. Already the sulpherous reek of the balstorm came to his nostrils. The churning yellow clouds with their black lightnings were spreading their dark carrion wings over the Keep.
       Vile bal creatures milled like fire ants at the foot of the wall. They had destroyed the Doombringers, ten thousand strong, the pride of the Soulmender army. Taul caught glimpses of Doombringer corpses and their mounts, hidden mostly by feasting bal creatures. For three days the fierce battle had waged on Dearthurn's Plain of Lidaghtrk Dalirkght, an endless cacaphony of mortal and bestial screams and the clashing of weapons and armor. All that remained was for the bal army of the Soulrender to pierce the defenses of the mighty fortress. The Doomkeeper guards and the Soulmenders themselves could not long hold out against the dark army. Soon Sekia the Banned would set foot in the Keep and the Doomstones would be desecrated.
       Taul began to sing. The song did not come easy to his lips, unaccustomed as he was to using dirty magic. But dirty magic was all he could use, else the Soulrender would know what he was doing and would seek to prevent his departure. The words of the song were like the faint echoes of thunder:

                         Come to me, the dead in your mountain,
                         from out of the corpse-cold north.
                         Come to me, the sleepers in your hill,
                         from out of the flesh-frozen north.
                         Come to me, the spirits in your mound,
                         from out of the bone-biting north.

                         Spirit passing in the breath that leaves,
                         Breath passing in the wind that leaves,
                         Wind passing in the cloud that leaves,
                         Cloud passing in the storm that leaves.

                         Come to me, the dead in your wind,
                         from out of the corpse-cold north.
                         Come to me, the sleepers in your cloud,
                         from out of the flesh-frozen north.
                         Come to me, the spirits in your storm,
                         from out of the bone-biting north.


       Taul stretched forth the sense that saw what happened far away and watched as the deathstorm gathered over the mountain in the north. The spirits of the dead rushed like the howling wind from the Doors of the mountain, becoming One as they rose above the mountain in a pillar of swirling cloud-fire. The pillar grew until it blocked out the sun, a black lotus unfolding in the sky. When it pressed against the dome of heaven itself, the spiritstorm moved from its mountain, flew on the wings of the dead towards the Keep of Ashroud. It travelled fast, so fast that it passed behind the Curtains of the worlds. There his sight would not go. He lowered his arms.
       How long would it take to reach here? the Soulmender wondered. Would it arrive in time?
       An explosion detonated somewhere below him, rocking the Tower. The stones of the Keep groaned to their very foundation. Before he even looked down, Taul knew what the explosion meant: a tine from a bolt of bal-lightning had found its way through the Spell of Fastening that secured the main gate. The unyielding bands of irthmog-wrought stayiron were peeled back like skin from a dead man. Huge timbers of fernfolk oak, kept suspended between the form-shadow worlds and the fernfolk world by Doordevisers, were shattered into glass-like shards.
       The dark bal army of Sekia Soulrender surged forward, pressed in on itself and flowed in miasmic waves into the Keep of Ashroud.
       A rumbling in the distance that was not balthunder brought the Soulmender's head back up. Scanning the horizon, he could barely make out a deeper darkness moving beneath the balstorm. Then the sense that saw what was far away knew it for what it was: the spiritstorm from the mountain in the north, just now come from behind the Curtains of the worlds. The thunder that was not bal became louder, the deathstorm loomed larger. Closer, closer it came, passing through the air with unnatural speed, boiling with the darkness that hid the dead. Something akin to hope rekindled in Taul's breast.
       Within the Keep beneath the Soulmender's feet, his fellows and the Doomkeepers were dying. Some had the goodness removed from their souls by a horror of Sekia's making. These, now wholly evil, turned on their own brothers-in-arms. Others had their souls rent from them and their torn souls became the playthings of the Soulrender. The rest fell victim to the nightmare warriors of the dark army. Even now the Soulmender who awaited the spiritwind could feel the enemy forcing its way up the Tower stairs. Soon they would reach the roof of the Tower, where he stood waiting.
       And then, mercifully and cruelly, the deathstorm reached the Keep, hovered possessively over the top of the Tower. The Soulmender offered himself to it, a sacrifice to pay for the dirty magic he had used. The fiery cloud enshrouded him in gloom. Within the gloom were shapes, shapes without substance, shapes which gave themselves form by wrapping themselves in wind-driven cloud. The shapes, vague and indefinable, clawed and clutched at him. He gave himself up to them.
       The spirits of the dead yanked him from the Tower wall, lifted him aloft. Suddenly all was cold and choking darkness, an endless sensation of violent motion, of being tossed this way and that until he knew not anymore what was up or what was down. As the spirit-shapes tried to rip him apart, tried to strike him with flaming brands, buffetted him with mighty gusts and pelted him with sleet and hail, he cried out in agony and terror, but there was only laughter like wind and screams like wind and teasing, mocking faces like wind.
       Through it all, he tried desperately to keep his wits about him, to send his thoughts to the world he needed, to send his thoughts to the spirits, so that they might guide the deathstorm to the world of his choosing.
       The spirits heard him. Their answer was the thunder that bore him away from the Keep of Ashroud.

 

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