(Note: It is helpful to read the history of the mill on the homepage before proceeding. This story will reference earlier events frequently.)
THE CITY OF TANARAK,
ON THE 83rd PLANE OF
"There's a storm coming."
The dark man looked nonchalantly toward the mountainous horizon and gave a cursory nod. Menacing clouds rose above the peaks to swallow the setting sun, as though they were so offended by the light as to strike it from the sky.
Akaron looked at his master, who seemed enrapt by the ephemeral dance of the Rabiahan sky. Thrakkiss had not spoken to any but his closest advisors in weeks.
The palace's chief caretaker looked out at the cloud formations again. Definitely rain clouds, he thought. The dark man remained motionless.
"Shall I order the attendants to seal the palace? I fear this storm will bring a mighty rain."
Thrakkiss turned slowly to face Akaron. His eyes seemed to burn into the lesser man's skull, searing right through his being and examining the city beyond. The sultan's turban that adorned his head cast an ominous shadow across the warlord's face.
Over a year in his service had not brought Akaron any great amount of confidence when dealing with the new sultan of Tanarak. He swallowed hard out of nervousness and took a step back from Thrakkiss. A chill wind blew through the parapet as the sun sunk below the distant storm clouds.
"Yes," Thrakkiss began, his voice distant. "Close up the palace. Warn the citizens of any potential flooding. I am not yet...familiar with your desert weather."
His inflection on the word your reminded Akaron that his city's present ruler had arrived in this land scarcely two seasons ago.
Thrakkiss turned away once more, and Akaron hurried into the palace to alert the small army of guards, attendants, and servants to prepare for the coming storm.
* * *
The rain pounded down in sheets upon the palace walls that night. Thrakkiss wandered, alone and unfettered, through the dark and empty passages of his newfound Citadel.
No, he thought. I must not use that word. This pleasant reality bears no resemblance to anything touched by the Fiend.
But the Fiend has touched you.
I defeated the Fiend, drove him from my home and from my soul.
Hah, came the thought. Did you defeat it completely? Did you ever look down to make certain? Did you?
The dark warlord grunted quietly, disturbed by his ceaseless ability to maintain conversation within his own mind. For as long as he could remember - which was a truly immense span of time, now - Thrakkiss always carried the bad habit of an "inner voice" that always sought to tear down his own accomplishments, to sabotage his successes. It was a demon he never succeeded in defeating throughout the perils of too-long life.
The weather outside seemed to reflect the climate within Thrakkiss' own soul. He walked restlessly into the night while his dominion slumbered around him - the dark warlord had no need for sleep - and spent much time in thought. With a skill almost instinctive, he tapped into the lines of mana that ran beneath the desert in his mind. He played on them a bit, easing himself into the euphoric chaos of magic-enhanced perceptions. Then he began to tug, sending his mind out across the sand-ocean, savoring the different sensations he found there.
Wet. Dry. Hot. Cold. All very rudimentary, yet very alien. He was the ground, he was the sky. Thrakkiss reveled in the ease with which he mastered this world. He experienced the rainstorm from beneath the ground, then shifted his awareness into the clouds themselves. He felt a daring Kalial-buzzard dive through the sky that was his own body. The rich mix of potent sensations had become like a drug to the ruler of Tanarak as of late, a late-night indulgence he could not, and would not, share with anyone.
At last his supernatural perceptions circled the 83rd globe of Rabiah, and the dark warlord felt the searing pressure of the midday sun on the far side of the world. Thrakkiss focused himself on one of the routine life-or-death struggles between a Dun Scorpion and a Finar Wasp in a tiny sandpit, and thrust his mind into both of the tiny creatures to satisfy a bloody urge while his physical self sat cross-legged in one of the high spires of his protected palace.
* * *
It knew fear.
There was a struggle, and then a wash of pain, and then darkness. Its memories came slow, in flashes and fragments, like dust particles collecting in some great void.
Images of a pristine world. Home.
Invaders. It knew anger. Violation. Destruction. Its anger grew.
Time passes. In the darkness, there are no definites. A year. A second. A lifetime. All are equal in the stygian womb.
The memories come faster now. Awareness blinks in and out of its perception, like a shadow on the edge of one's vision, a name on the tip of one's tongue, a thought that cannot be completely grasped yet which looms large in the mind.
Darkness. It knew darkness. And anger, great anger.
Then came more images, and its anger grew into a knot so great that it could determine itself from the darkness once more.
With the images came a name, similar to the first but different.
* * *
Thrakkiss remained inanimate on the floor until early morning, which was uncharacteristically dark. The violent storm would remain in the sky for several hours, and the dark warlord would not see the sun on Rabiah again.
The earliest risers in the palace began their morning duties. Cooks busily prepared a dish of Hajaij, Thrakkiss's nose told him, a stringy, salty meal consisting mostly of tenderized desert jackal. Small units of royal guards walked through the palace to relieve the night watch. The more pragmatic members of the court arrived at the palace with the sun and clustered in small groups to discuss the previous day's activity.
Through all this activity the small kingdom's ruler remained, motionless, seated on the floor in an isolated hallway, staring at the dismal gray sky.
Twice, servants attempted to awaken him. Neither dared to touch their ruler directly, and both spoke with quiet voices. Thrakkiss was rumored to have a delicate temper that concealed a fury second only to the sun, and not since his first days in the palace had anyone tried that theory.
Little did either servant realize, Thrakkiss was completely aware of their presence and half-hearted attempts to rouse him. His consciousness detected the subtle earthquakes of their feet on the marble floors; the tempestuous gusts of wind their whispers unleashed into the air. He was simultaneously humbled by the depth of the world, and amused by the degree of fear he had instilled in these people. They were so terrified of their former oppressor that his swift defeat at the hands of one ancient-looking infidel scared them beyond speech. Without realizing, Thrakkiss let a thin smile appear on his lips.
Thrakkiss again tugged the strings of mana that encircled this world, withdrew his consciousness into his physical form, and officially ended the night's exploration. With a series of deep breaths he readjusted to the limited perceptions of the frail human body he called home. He felt disappointment, and frustration, at the sudden halt to his explorations. Part of his mind had been submerged as he experienced an intimate encounter in a city far across the world on a level neither participant could even appreciate.
Several minutes after his actual return, Thrakkiss willed his body to awaken and stand. With the same ice-cold methodical movement he was known for, the dark warlord marched to his cathedralesque room and took a bath in the indoor pond to prepare for the day's events.
* * *
A tiny pinprick of light appeared in the endless night that was its existence.
It knew fear.
It was curious.
It moved toward the light, willing itself through a world no more physical than a fleeting thought. A tearing, grinding sensation accompanied its travel, as it was not a thing of this realm. Still it moved towards the only feature it could discern.
The memories still flowed into it, completing a complex picture one fragment at a time.
It saw the same world, and it knew that one named Tara created both it and that world. Tara remained a mystery; some memories depicted it as a nurturing parent, others a vengeful murderer.
It saw a great deal of time pass. Small beings wandered around the planet, first some malevolent creatures that shined like the midday sun, and others that were covered alternately with fur and various colors of soft flesh. It remembered feeling anger towards the shining people, and it knew that it was responsible for wiping them off the world.
Killing. It remembered killing.
* * *
"Good morning, my liege. It is a pleasure to see you, as always." One of the senior courtiers, well known for his many debaucheries, greeted Thrakkiss with his oily voice.
"You may dispense with your condescending attempts at formality, Mataja. You are greatly incensed at my continued stay in your kingdom. I confess that I am rather annoyed by your continued stay in this life." The dark warlord replied coldly, not slowing his gradual walk towards the court chambers. Thrakkiss had looked inside the rotund courtier's mind on several occasions, and was always sickened by the amount of treachery and deceit he found there. The comment clearly caught Mataja off-guard.
"I, I apologize for any inconvenience I may have," he stuttered, "may have caused. I seek only to s-serve my people."
"Yes, you do serve them so faithfully. Particularly," Thrakkiss stopped, and locked his eyes on the courtier's. His gaze was penetrating. "What were their names? Talia, Matara, and Petra, yes? Oh, and you sent the one called Salia home early last night…hmm, she offended you with her reluctance to perform upon the others…you should pay your whores better, my friend, or they will leave your employ to work the fields!"
All the color drained from Mataja's face. His eyes dilated wide and his mouth hung open as if to speak. Thrakkiss smiled a little, turned on a heel, and resumed walking towards the court. Mataja stood motionless in the hallway until his ruler was out of sight.
* * *
It raced toward the light now. The flecks of what could be considered pain had grown into great knots of screaming anguish, now hindering its advance. But it sensed escape in the light; it could not be deterred.
It remembered killing. There was another great passage of time within its memories, then a number of small, benevolent beings began to dwell on its world. It had been a part of that world, that was certain now. The beings grew, multiplied, and spread, and for a long time it had been pleased by their existence.
Then everything changed.
It remembered wars, vast conflicts between the tiny beings that lived on its world. For as long as there were creatures living in that world, there were fights, and killing, but that was all the nature of those creatures. But the little flesh-beings quickly accelerated the process, and increased its scope until the world itself was harmed by their battles. Even worse, they began to manipulate some sort of energy - mana, yes, that was the word - to effect their devastation. Mana that held the world together. Mana that was a part of this being's self.
It knew anger, but different from before. It knew…hate.
Then the shining beings returned.
* * *
The court bustled with activity, and Thrakkiss sensed a great unease that hung over the room. Until he sits on the throne, the court is considered closed, and all the members of his kingdom's loose-knit governing body are free to mingle and discuss matters in small groups, and off the record. Thrakkiss observed their nervous mumbling from behind the throne, and felt a pall of uneasiness rise in his own mind.
Only rarely did this many of the courtiers actually arrive early. Normally, most would stand outside the palace, or in the Great Hall in the event of weather like today's. But this time something clearly agitated the crowd of courtiers into what could best be described as organized panic. Thrakkiss extended his consciousness into the gathering to pick up their surface thoughts and determine the cause of the disturbance.
Within moments he sensed one word, one image, repeating itself in the thoughts of the gathering. He grunted quietly in frustration. How quick these bumbling, fearful leeches were to panic over the simplest of life's difficulties. How easily one word drove them to run between their parents' legs and cower in the shadows.
* * *
War. It remembered War.
The Shining Beings wounded it deeply. Drove into the heart of its world, and itself.
Here it heard the name Thrakkiss associated with a memory for the first time. It knew hate, again.
The flesh-beings died in large numbers. Its mind glimmered with what might be happiness when that memory appeared. The pain of its travel quickly quashed the sensation but it enjoyed it nonetheless.
The Shining Beings were repelled again. The Great Shining Being itself had visited the world, although it did not actually shine. Strange.
Then there was more death, among the flesh-beings and the animals. It saw great tracts of the world in ruins. Ash blew on the wind and came down in storms like rain.
The Forest. Yes, it thought! The Forest was home! It saw its surroundings in the clarity of memory; a tiny grove in the heart of the deepest, darkest forest on the World. It knew peace. It knew…love.
Then came the wash of a new sensation. It knew fire. It knew burning.
The Forest was burned into ash all around it. Its hatred grew to a fever pitch. The memories spurred it on towards the light.
The light. It was not just a simple mote of light, it could now determine. The source loomed large in its world of inky nothing, and resembled a net…or a web.
Memories flowed quickly and coherently now, like water. It felt a growing sense of wholeness. It could think clearly, became a Creature of organization, a rational being, no longer a base force of nature.
It saw the last days of the World, now. The Creature itself had risen from the ground and made War on the flesh beings that had offended it beyond all reason and burned its Home, its Love into ashes that fell like rain. There was a small flesh being - an elf, a female, its name irrelevant - that the Creature had taken control of to make War with and to mock the offending flesh beings. The elf had progeny, which it controlled through her, that looked very little like itself. The pair brought War to all the flesh-beings of the world with the limitless power of the World itself.
It remembered Thrakkiss, again.
* * *
The Dark Warlord took his place on the throne and within moments, the entire court found their way to designated seats or favored spots on which to stand.
"Leaders of Tanarak," he addressed them according to the official title for all that held station in the court. "I sense you have something that you would like to discuss before your king."
The court was silent for several long seconds. A small object was dropped at the far end of the massive chamber, its sound echoing loudly in the silence. Finally one of the elder courtiers stepped towards the throne from the front ranks of the assemblage and began to speak.
* * *
Thrakkiss, who associated with the Shining Beings. Thrakkiss who had explored the hidden reaches of mana that were the exclusive domain of the Creature. Thrakkiss who was involved with the return of Tara, who ended the Creature's existence as it was and sent it to Where It Was Now. How it hated Thrakkiss.
There were others, as well. A group of flesh beings, and the Creature within its two vassals, and Tara. There was talk between Tara and the flesh beings. Then there was light and dark, extremes of each, and then pain. Pain like it had never experienced. It relished the experience and hated the experience.
These last memories came together with the force of crashing oceans, with the gradual might of the rock-sheets which covered the World grinding together, with the might of the great cloud-rings in the sky that spun and spun and flattened the land. It felt an immediate longing, a yearning, to return to the World, to make itself a part of it once more. It desired Home, it desired Love.
The web of light grew closer.
* * *
"My liege," the old man began "O mighty and benevolent king, who hast-"
"You may address me freely," Thrakkiss interrupted. Eladain - perhaps the eldest among the courtiers - looked stunned for a moment. Years of melodramatic political mores had molded him into a fiercely traditional speaker, and the rulers of Tanarak that preceded Thrakkiss uniformly insisted on page-length titles. The dark warlord, an impatient being by nature, resented the practice.
"My apologies," he said with a curt bow and a crumpled forehead. "My liege, the court has received notification from the Sultan of Alhed-Ra that we are to send to his Kingdom a Tribute of 5000 gold pieces, 8000 silver pieces, 3500 bushels of Khalid grain, one hundred-" Eladain continued to read from a small scroll for over a minute, outlining a truly massive list of material, wealth, products, and laborers that were demanded by Tanarak's warmongering neighbor.
"…if this Tribute has not been received by the Dark Moon," he finished with a choking gesture, "the Kingdom of Alhed-Ra shall inform the Kingdom of Tanarak that a state of War exists between those two nations."
Thrakkiss rose to speak, but by the time he was on his feet the entire chamber turned into a chaotic, screaming, mob.
* * *
It could feel the web of light now. It hung in the darkness like some immense wireframe sphere. How far the Creature had traveled in this realm without distance, it marveled! The light appeared as no more than tiny point when its memories first started to return, and now hung just above it as a structure as large as the World, bearing the same shape.
No. Yes! It reached out and touched one of the lines of the web. It was mana.
It knew excitement.
* * *
Thrakkiss stepped forward to address the court when a distinct tugging sensation gripped the back of his skull. He felt a bizarre sensation of a terrible wrongness somewhere in the world, appearing suddenly and powerfully. Fear raced throughout his body in the form of adrenaline from his vestigial kidneys. A cold sweat broke out on his face and the dark warlord froze where he stood. Below, the courtiers continued arguing amongst each other. To Thrakkiss the din of their conversations quickly faded to the background as he raced his consciousness across the world to find what had happened.
* * *
A ripple of alternating colors spread across the web from where it floated in space. Its perceptions saw the ripple quickly meander through the countless threads of the wire-world, and in a few moments converge in a blotch on the far side. It remembered well the feel of mana and was overjoyed at the prospect.
Suddenly, a different colored ripple emerged elsewhere on the web, to the Creature's horror, and came racing towards it.
* * *
Something alien, he sensed. Yet somehow…familiar.
This concept greatly disturbed the dark warlord as he frantically examined every nook and cranny of the 83rd world of the planes of Rabiah. He raced across the desert floor with the speed of the wind in his mind's eye, caressing the ground from one pole to the other as he flew.
* * *
An idea entered the Creature's thoughts. The first idea since its reawakening.
As the differently colored pulse neared its location, the Creature grabbed hold of one of the strands of the web.
And it pulled.
* * *
The effect was similar to a runner, who while running, had the Earth removed from beneath him. One of the definite lines of mana that crossed the planet suddenly just ceased to be, and Thrakkiss was pulled to the site with tremendous force. Oddly, a half-remembered saying crossed his thoughts at the last second.
"Nature abhors a vacuum."
Pain like fire seared across Thrakkiss' mind. He screamed in anguish in his thoughts, and the act was translated through his physical self still in the court, as well. The entire assemblage fell quiet once more and looked on with shocked awe as their ruler tumbled to the floor. His eyes remained open and fixated on some point in empty space.
* * *
It couldn't be.
It knew Hate.
(Part 2 coming next week)
(I Promise! ^_^)
Right on, Thrak. :)