In spite of the activities they were about to perform, the night was relatively quiet in the compound. Taliah was in her ceremonial robe, waiting on a Bhik-sunii to retrieve her from her room and escort her to the Ritual Room. She was calm and rested, her thick red hair bound up in a silver brooch. Her blindfold laid across her lap, she did not like to wear it in the privacy of her room. However, for the Order ceremonies or when she was consulting visitors she always had one to cover the deep groves, the scars cut into her face and of course, the hideous open eye sockets. Without it, there was always an awkward tension in the air. She understood that people were thrown off by the mutilation and it made them uncomfortable. Yet she was at peace with all of it. It was the price she paid, the penance for her forced actions on behalf of the Viestrahl which led to much blood spilt.
She wondered what the Blood Seyde would reveal to her tonight. Normally, she took her cues from nature when to perform the Seyde, a bath in blood. Storms would coalesce and sweep in to their island. The pounding of the rain, the strafing rains, and the raw energies released by its lightning would charge her power.
Sometimes with those storms came a mystic messenger, a white cloud-like entity. These entities wanted her to see their stories, live a moment or day in their lives. They were her guides through history. Even a king once came to her and confessed to her his greatest sins. These visions had revealed much to her and explained so many mysteries of local lore to her which she shared with Tal Crowan and the Khestal Ezan Order.
Yet, there were no such storms this evening. She proposed the idea to Tal and set up the Seyde herself. A compulsion or maybe it was intuition, but something nagged at her and inspired the idea to try and gain knowledge of the Etohlosii through her visions. At first, it took some convincing as the procurement of the precious gallons of blood was expensive. In the end, he agreed it may provide a direction.
The Beleardea were ahead of them and with the Ebon Queen’s backing, they easily blocked all of their other endeavors to learn what was happening behind the Barrier of Storms.
A memory of crystal water stained red, a fountain of white and silver stone, the horrific vision rose up in Taliah and she shuddered. It had been a terrorizing, prophetic dream she had before Letandra had been taken by the Crown. A revealing glimpse into madness and human sacrifice. The blood in her fountains were human, while the blood Taliah would bathe in was from animals. A subtle but important difference.
A metal gong was struck and reverberated through the compound. It was time, her escort would arrive soon.
She pulled up the red and gold blindfold and placed it over her scarred face. Carefully, she worked herself over to stand near the door.
Moments later she heard the wooden clogs of the Bhik-sunii girls as they came to her bed chamber.
One gave a soft knock and they came in without a word. She extended her arm then was led through the halls.
Taliah laid naked inside a silver bathtub, the cold metal chilling her backside as she waited for the ritual to begin.
She smelled a faint wisp of scented smoke coming from several braziers in the corners of the room. A metallic tinkling sound drifted down to her ears that came from long metal chimes hung from the ceiling in between red wax candles and ruby crystal chandeliers.
The Bhik-sunii strode up and surrounded the bathtub, presumably with their silver pitchers. She braced herself and focused her thoughts.
Cam Rhea initiated the special Song of Crossing to deliver her into the In-Between. The In-Between was an enormous intersection of all existence, where all the planes connected. It was said to be like an emerald sea where nothing physically existed yet everything could be found there too. She did not understand it nor had she ever seen it with her own eyes, even before she was blind.
The Song of Crossing and the intricate chants were to guide her to the intersection as well as provide a level of magical and spiritual protection. There were said to be creatures that could prey upon souls or even capture one in order to replace them in reality.
“Pa tas bea’tra. Pa tas bea’tra. Pa tas bea’tra – Keyor!” Speak through the blood. Speak through the blood. Speak through the blood — Dead One! As the girls chanted, they poured the oily liquid contents of the pitchers. Taliah then felt their hands upon her limbs and shoulders keeping her firmly beneath the surface of the warm blood.
She spasmed and her body fought their hold, but in time as always it gave in and went limp. As she entered the Crossing, her body became weightless. Then a fire built inside her, it raged through every cell. While she still could not see, a picture formed of her surroundings inside her mind. Every nerve of her body was in direct connection to the In-Between and absorbed every detail in an all encompassing vision.
Within the In-Between were millions of strands or soul-lines, long, convoluted cables, representing each person’s life. They wound together in massive braids, the family blood lines of each generation. It was at this point the guide or the Mystic Messenger would take her to the strand she needed and she would delve into the depths of their lives, living through their eyes or witnessing it in a spirit-form.
When Taliah was new to the role as a Blood Seeress, it was hard to know the limits of what she could do and to understand what she saw. And even though she was more experienced, she still found she had a loose grasp on her power. It was one of the reasons she was so excited to try this experiment this evening. She wanted to push the boundaries again and at the same time, she hoped to find more useful answers.
She hesitated opn how to proceed. No “Dead One” tonight for her to rely on so she waited for any sign. Floating in the Emerald Sea among the multitude of soul-lines made her feel insignificant and at the same time a critical element to all the souls around her.
Finally she felt the tiniest of vibrations caress her skin. She pushed herself toward it trying to gain a stronger indication of its location. Again the sensation of rippling waves tickled her. but it was barely any different than before. This meant that the soul-line was a distance from her. It would take some time and a lot of mental energy to find the hidden strand.
That did not bode well for Taliah. The longer in the In-Between, the harder it was to extract from it. As well it meant a more intensive rest would be needed afterward. She hated bed-rest. The fact that the hidden strand was some distance, however, did boost her mood. This was a sign that the event to be witnessed was deep in history.
As she had not felt any other twinges or sensations from other strands, she had to hope that this was the one she needed.
It took the greater half of the night she estimated to reach the soul-line. Taliah hoped she was not woken too early. The Bhik-sunii watched over her physical form in the real world and studied her to see signs of stress. If they feared she was in danger they had processes to retrieve her soul-line. They knew she disliked long periods in the mysterious plane, yet they also knew this was an important quest for her. It was a dual test of their wisdom for them and a test of her fortitude.
She trusted their patience would hold them from disrupting her.
Not waiting any time, she located the strand among several knotted family braids and immediately plunged her essence into the ivory cable.
A set of five pedestals stood before her, four with individual marks and thick moldy tomes. The room was square with a high arched ceiling. A trio of sky lights allowed sunrays to pierce the room’s gloomy shadows and encircle the pedastals. Taliah recognized the pedastals and books but not the location. She saw a similar set up once in a long ago vision, but that room had been hidden in present day somewhere in the city of Rovmantysa. The Beleardea had established a chamber, acquired the tomes and used them in their rituals.
She did not understand why they were here now in front of her. This room was empty, its walls were only adorned with a symbolic scripting. It was the exact opposite of her vision of the altar for ARa Etohl — that room had been circular, ringed with candles and the walls covered in tapestries showing the Vile Beast, the Three-Horned Snake God.
Staring down at her hands, she recognized that they were too rough and callused to be a woman’s hands. In the right hand was a torch and the other a dirt-caked hand shovel.
“Aramon, move in already. I want to see.” A woman’s voice, thick with the Jehahi accent called out behind him.
“Aye. It’s beautiful. Jussa like the Shaman said.” The man answered. Taliah remained inside only as a witness. She had no power here. All was displayed to her as if they were actors in a play before her.
The man raised from his crawling position and stood in the room. His face drawn in rapture and his eyes seem to eat up the writing on the walls.
As the woman came in, Taliah noted her youth first then the fact that her naked torso was tattooed in symbols. She recognized a few religious symbols but could not remember the meanings. She was dressed in a long flowing skirt and had a bronze circlet which had delicate chains woven into her hair. The braid hung down her back to her waist. She carried a backpack and a couple of watersacks on a belt. Neither she or this Aramon were armed.
“We don’t have much time.” She tried to spur him into action. When he remained frozen, she shrugged and crossed over to the first of the pedestals.
The tome was three handspans wide and bound in gray-scaled leather with golden rings. A glass crystal orb was embedded in the cover. Without realizing it, she subconsciously rubbed her fingers over the translucent glass. A high-pitched whine escaped it and filled the chamber for a couple of seconds.
“Shasha! What did you do?” Aramon shouted as spun to look at her. He ran to her side. The second tome answered in turn with its own pitch, slightly higher. A hooked staff shown on its cover and was depicted in gold and platinum metal engraving. The third book, marked by a Silver Crown rang out in an even higher octave. All four tomes continued to trill and gain in intensity.
“I…I don’t know?” A tear slipped down her cheek. “But, I think…I think I hear the voice of Yula Do Vras. It is so beautif–“
“–NO! You’ve only triggered some kind of alarm. Grab them before…”
A part of the back wall shifted and a square section of sandstone slowly dropped and cascaded into a pile upon the floor. A passage dark and foreboding could be seen as it continued into mysterious shadows. The tomes shrills whines diminished and faded into silence.
The pair stared at each other, neither had an answer or expected this.
Aramon approached the opening and held up his torch which sputtered on an unseen draft coming from the tunnel. The flames steadily regained and remained lit on the wooden shaft. Over his shoulder, he commanded again, “Get the books, Shasha. Come!”
“I donna like the looks of that way. We should go back the ways we came. That way opened for a reason. Who knows what it’s purpose might be. A trap perhaps?”
A whispery voice called out from the tunnel. It was featherlight and musical. She was almost certain it was the same sweet voice she had heard before. The words were impossible to make out but they repeated over and over to them.
Before the pair knew it, they were standing inside another mammoth chamber, their torchlight barely illuminating a quarter of it. Marble pillars stood on white and black tiled floors. They rose high overhead to an unseen ceiling. Nothing of this place seemed familiar or even possibly connected to the temple they had invaded. The room was manmade but appeared to be nearly empty. Taliah noted that there were rows of wooden benches or pews on either side of an immense aisle. Their sandals made odd thumping sounds as they traveled deeper into the heart of the chamber.
Finally they stood before a raised dais and a wooden altar. A gray and red cloth carpeted the dais.
A figure stood waiting behind the altar, silken beige thin wraps covered the figure from head to toe. The wraps were see-through and haphazard in fashion. The figure was a collection of bones, not a full skeleton. A chain of black links and sapphire gems was the only decoration upon its neck.
“Come, O Children O Children,” The figure called out as the skull turned to acknowledge their presence. It had the sweet angelic voice.
“Who are you? Where are we?” Challenged Aramon.
“You are in Sanctuary. You are forever safe.”
Shasha pulled on Aramon’s shoulder. “I donna like this. Please, let’s go back the other ways.”
“I want to show you what gifts you hold. I want you to understand their meaning and their power.” The wrapped figure said. It had no real emotion in its words, just a simple statement of desire. It floated closer, ominous and wreathed with ivory light. Breath-taking, towering over them, intimidating all at the same time.
“We donna mean any disgrace to Yula Do Vras. Our…our mother is dying and we needed the bounty for the books to pay for her care. We see that this was wrong and we’ll replace them. Please!” Aramon begged.
“I am not asking to take the books from you. They shall be forever a part of you. I only want to show you their reason for existence. You have done Us a great favor, O Children O Children” The figure rose above them, its light now bathing them.
The siblings whimpered in superstitious fear and dropped to their knees, clasping their hands. “Please. PLEASE! Forgive our trespass. We will return them. Donna hurt us.” Shasha ranted as she buried her face into her brother’s shoulder.
“You do not understand… yet,.. how you have done Us the favor. Now we impart onto you what you have released into the existence again.” Its skeletal hands came down and rested on their foreheads. The figure’s remnants of skin was mottled gray and with patches of coarse black hairs. Blue veins stood out under the thin, taught skin. Its clinging flesh writhed uncontrollably.
Both Aramon and Shasha shrieked and filled the room with tortured screams.
Taliah’s eyes were blind again. A searing pain filled her. She reflexively flung herself back into reality, crashing out of the silver tub, sprawling like a wild fish upon the floor. Her hands clutched at the sides of her head as her screams mimicked the pair over and over. Horrific images flooded her mind’s eye.
The Etohlosii were coming and soon they would release ARa Etohl forever upon the realms. All realms!
The Bhik-sunii swept her up, trying to calm her, but it took hours for her to return to sanity. She writhed all that time, wrestled in their arms as she cried. They eventually put a leather strip in her mouth to prevent her from biting off her tongue and chewing away her lips.
All the while, Tal Crowan stood silently watching, pen and parchment in hand. He wrote down her every word. He listened to every muttered phrase or name. Her words began to repeat — he surmised that she was giving him a prophecy, a litany of events that may come, names of those who must live and those who must die or the Corruption of ARa Ehtol would come and end all existence.