Chapter 1: A Vile Experiment
he night was unseasonably cold in Mia's Edge. Each star was a frozen tear of ice in a sky as black as the Lich King's heart. Those of two legs and those of four, who found themselves out, seemed to care but little. For a short distance away, at Heart's Ease.. the forested home that Sonea Finder had built first in her mind's eye and then built again of wood and stone with the help of a handful of dedicated friends... the Hall of Mirrors shone bright and welcoming.
As they came to the Hall, each one made swift for some favored place on the benches. Some in company with friends, some seeming alone. But not truly so. For none were ever alone in the Hall. And as they took places, each would eye the walls, and mayhap point out to a companion or new visitor a visage found limned upon those walls, and they would whisper some fragment of an old tale. For the shadows of mystery and history both were set there pell and mell, that the tales might not need speakers to live.
And all were come. And for a moment, all was silence. And then, then the rite... the chant. As was tradition, the younglings would begin. For this was no place of solemnity save by the needs of that told there. And thus it was:
" A tale... a tale.... a tale...."
And soon all those there would be chanting. Of a sudden... all the light was gone, and the Hall was dark. But where there might have been fear, instead there was sudden excitement and joy. For this was ever how it began. And then a voice came.
“ The night winds were cold. The rain fell like daggers against the skin. And the Long Road was hard… so very hard. Alone, a warrior walked, worn cloak huddled close against the wind, and wrapped about the child he carried in his arms. He had slain many Foe in his time, but the battle he fought now was a battle no sword could win…”
The voice paused. Suddenly there was a loud crash, and a flare of light, as though the roof were gone and the Tempest Ogres danced among those who listened. Then… silence. All was dark. From the darkness the voice came again..
"Did ye ever hear tell of Thunder and Lightning? Of the Fool and the Fair?"
And the light came again, flickering now, as if cast by a fire on a mountain side where a traveler or three would sit close that the night might pass. And in that light was a drakonel. And her face was cast in the flickering light that she might not be made clear. For tonight she was not the name she bore. Nay, on this night she was the WordSmith, the TaleSpinner, the bringer of the magic.
Again she spoke..
"Well, they were not always so. The Thunder was not always Thunder, and not always did he walk by the name ye do know. And the Lightning? Ah, there was a time that one thought never to take the warrior road, and a time before that that it was all she knew... and a time before that? Why, then she was..."
The TaleSpinner paused. A flicker of a smile came to her eyes as they sought those who watched, and they lighted in delight on a slip of a human lass who snuggled in her mother's arms.
"Why, she was no bigger than ye!"
And the tale was begun.
The TaleSpinner settled herself more comfortably on the stage and she spoke a child's rhyme.
Sonea Finder, little cinder,
cast upon the storm.
Burned by fire and crossed death's pyre,
ever-now reborn .
She surveyed those gathered and saw that she had caught their interest. TaleSpinner continued..
Have ye heard of the Gifted? Of course ye have. Gifted. Great warriors who battle the Foe. Great healers who walk among us all. Great crafters who twist metal and stone and wood and cloth to wondrous things. And all different. Different, aye. But alike in one thing. Being Gifted means that when, of a time, death comes knocking at the door, tis no true death. Rather, a Gifted One finds himself reborn in the city where his essence has been bound.
If ye have heard naught of binding, it is a ritual that allows ye to tether thy spirit to a shrine, a binding stone, that ye may travel magically through the aether to it from anywhere in the land. Another thing about being Gifted is that if ye happen to perish when another is near, and that one has the magery to resurrect, then ye may be revived upon the very spot where ye lay staring at the sky.
Not everyone is blessed with the Gift. Or cursed… In fact, neither of Sonea's parents was so blessed. But mayhap indeed they were cursed…
The TaleSpinner lowered her voice to a whisper...
Did ye ever hear tell of the Clan? Now, the Clan seek ever the darkness. If ye have not heard of them, the Clan are draku who follow the dark path. Evil in thought and deed they are. Even most draku know but little more of them than what is told in night tales of terror for the young. Those who know more speak but little and less, that the Clan not come and silence both those who speak and those who hear, forever.
She raised her voice again..
But... this tale is from long ago, and naught has been heard of the Clan in ages.
Ye see, Serilian, a drakonel of the Clan, delighted in meddling in biped affairs. She sought to experiment in association with the Hidden Ones of the Fiends. Her goal was to combine Fiend magery with draku to modify the minds of bipeds, that they might be brought to do Clan will. Serilian worked primarily with a Fiend named Umriel, a male. It was hard for the Clan drakonel to work with a male, but that was the way it had to be for Umriel had the needed skills and the ability to travel biped lands with minimal distraction.
Of a time, Umriel would pose as a tinker and pass through the woodworker's village of Heather . This allowed the Fiend to monitor the effect of a certain experiment's progress and to implement new mageries as needed. When Umriel did visit Heather, if one passed by the dwelling of a certain mother and daughter, whose husband and father was often gone adventuring, one might overhear the drakonel Serilian combining her power with the Fiend's to craft and cast some vile mind magic. And if one were particularly observant, occasionally one might catch a glimpse of the drakonel in the shadows.
Over time, the mother, who had as sweet and bright a disposition as that she had passed along to her daughter, did begin to fade. No longer did her smile brighten the Istarian day. And no longer did she find delight in each new thing that her youngling learned, nor did she savor it against the time that she might retell it to her warrior husband upon his return.
And where once Heather was filled with the song and laughter of daughter and mother, less and less frequently did the two burst forth into song, or dance happily as they journeyed from home to whatever task was before them. The elders of the village did notice this change, but knew not what to do. And so they watched, but none acted.
Eventually, the mind-damage that Serilian and Umriel were causing managed to malform the mother's mind to such a degree that she began to abuse her child. If one passed by their dwelling, instead of laughter one might hear the mother screaming at the daughter over some transgression. And instead of song, one could hear the child crying softly as she sought to avoid her mother's ire. This was made more extreme over time till the mother began to physically harm her little girl.
Now, fair and bright it would be if somewhere deep inside, the mother realized that her treatment of her daughter was wrong. And that try as she might, she could not o'ercome the compulsion that had been placed on her, and thus since she could not stop the doing, the mother decided to remove herself lest she harm her baby further. Or it might be that indeed the evil ones held full sway and that leaving was their will. But whatever the reason, the mother left the home and left the girl alone to fend for herself as best she may.
The villagers woke one morning to find that the dwelling place of mother and daughter was deserted. And none knew what had become of them. Though some worried over the child's welfare, they were also relieved that they no longer would feel guilt each time they did see the sad little girl. And none thought to enter the dwelling place, though some did pass by and peer in the window to see if aught of worth had been left that they might add to their own dwellings. And naught was there to see but a few broken things.
One day a traveling bard did visit Heather. And he did mention that the inn-keeper in Dalimond had a new lady. And wouldn't ye know, it just happened to be the mother. Now upon being plied with some fresh gruok stew and a pot of ale, the bard did also mention something odd. Ye see he was somewhat surprised that in all the time he had been in Dalimond, he never did see the delightful little daughter. He had been so looking forward to having her dance and sing for him as she had done when last he visited Heather. The village elders shook their heads sadly, not anxious to greet the day when the child's father did finally return home.
The TaleSpinner paused for a moment, and she looked out on those who had gathered.
“Ye seem quite comfortable. ‘Tis cold out and like to get colder ere morn. Would ye go to hearth and home now? Or do ye care to hear more?”
And those who had gathered raised their cups in the air, except for the one who raised a half-gnawed fowl's leg. And they did chant, “More... more...”
The TaleSpinner smiled. And then she took a deep breath and continued…