This was Yaldabet’s destiny. All else had led to this barren hillside. Every torment and trial he had faced had been a test of his faith in the Ceidriat – the Four – Amortae, Imurai, Esantet and Verliac – blessed be the Ceidriat and blessed be their will.
Raising his voice so all those assembled could hear, Yaldabet lifted his arms to the pale unhappy sky and praised their holy names again and again, beseeching them to look upon the desperate, wretched people before him, shivering in their rags and in their hunger and grief, begged that they, the blessed Ceidriat, would once more walk upon this godless earth, reclaim it as their own and let him, their humble servant and these, his willing disciples, do their bidding and bring every breathing being throughout the land and across the hostile seas to know them.
Geflin Con Van watched the gaunt, bearded figure in stained white robes call to his gods, the jagged edge of madness in his voice. Was this man who had come among them from who knows where, really their salvation? Were they - the Theydonites - harriers of the Geboch mountain cannibals; slayers of Ovrefial’s murderous tribe; the very ones who had sent the Clon Sea Raiders home when all others had been enslaved, really driven so low by pestilence and hunger that this man and his gods were their only salvation? That they should even be listening to him would have been beyond comprehension but one short, yet bitterly long year ago. Only a year ago, so hard to believe it, four seasons, thirteen months, all in the past now those happy days when his wife and daughters were still alive, when his proud father yet breathed and battled, when that dear man had five living children and twenty one grandchildren, not just this wretched one who had let his people be enthralled by a mad man and stranger. Guilt racked through Geflin, a physical thing that squeezed his heart and ground his soul further into the earth.
Con Van looked around at what remained of his people. Grey faces and sorrow, tattered matted furs and fabric hanging from bony shoulders, leather belts pulled tighter than they had ever been meant to. How sorry they looked, how weak, how hopeless and all focused like starving dogs on a promised meal at this one who called himself a prophet, a teacher, a guide.
Yaldabet stepped proudly towards the centre of the elongated diamond shaped array of stones he had instructed his promised people to create. It was as his vision had shown it should be: one megalith at each point to represent each of the Ceidriat, smaller stones to mark the boundaries and the slab mounted to waist height at the centre. Upon this alter the captured Geboch squirmed and fought his bonds, gnashing filed and broken teeth, howling and screeching at his captors because even one so dull of mind as he understood what fate had in store for him.
For the first time in too long Geflin felt more than despair within him. The voices of his ancestors cried out for him to awaken. How long had they been calling to him? How long had he been deaf to their cries? This was not the Theydonite way, these gods, this murder – it was all wrong. What kind of beings required such and act to be undertaken – even to a Geboch? What manner of creatures were they inviting into their lives at the hand of this mad man?
The fire that had once burned so brightly within him, which all that had gone before seemed to have doused forever suddenly sparked and flared. He was Chieftain, not this fool Yaldabet, and he would not stand for such a cowardly act on Theydonite soil! But too late – too late! Before he could utter a word or make a single move to stop the abomination, Yaldabet’s knife came down and into the heart of the writhing Geboch, once, twice and again. Blood poured from the wounds as the rope-bound body shook and twitched, his life draining into the soil.
Yaldabet, blood splattered and gory, stared down at the torn flesh that had lived only moments before, whose last breath he had taken. He had never killed a living soul before and he gazed in awe at the work of his hands, felt the power he held surge through him and raising the bloody dagger chanted the names of the Ceidriat - Amortae, Imurai, Esantet, Vereliac, Amortae, Imurai, Esantet, Vereliac, Amortae, Imurai, Esantet, Vereliac.
Around him Geflin heard others joining in the chant. Mumbles at first, growing bolder as others took it up, over and over, louder and louder they chanted, swaying from side to side. Geflin stared around in horror at people he’d known all his life, good people, strong people, kind and compassionate people, now hollow-eyed sheep, lost in the fog of their own misery, reaching out blindly for a shepherd – any shepherd even one such as this because he had not been there for them, as his father had been and his father before him.
Any further soul-searching was abruptly halted as Geflin felt the ground beneath his feet move, rising and falling so slightly that had he not seen those around him looking down and around at their neighbours, he might have thought he imagined it. The underground turbulence moved through the crowd becoming more violent as it went so that those in its path were falling aside and an audible rumble issued from the cold hard earth as it continued its path towards the stone array.
The chanting had stopped, only Yaldabet as yet oblivious, carried it on. Children grasped at parents hands and clung to legs, warrior memories stirred and dull hilts were grasped tightly, wasted muscles tensing. The ground beneath Geflin had stilled, but whatever it was that came had reached the outer edge of the standing stones. He could see the surface of the earth rippling all along the outside edge, pushing upwards, so even Yaldabet was now conscious of it, and Geflin noted an expression of fear cross his face before whatever madness held him quashed it and a triumphant smile stretched his lips.
“They come, my children, they come!” he cried.
He had done it, he had summoned them forth. He would bring them back to this world as they had told him he must. He would kneel at the feet of the Ceidrat and they would bless their humblest, greatest servant and he would sit with them above all men.
One of the megaliths lifted up from the ground, tilting sideways. Geflin knew how deep they went, the effort it had taken to erect them so they would stand solid. Two men deep each one was buried and yet before his eyes he saw the one at the southern tip rise up from its bed and crashed sideways against the line of boulders beside it. Yaldabet and the Theydonites watched aghast as it fell and as the next, to the west, likewise rose up but this time its tilt took it forward and Yaldabet barely escaped with his life as tumbled towards him, crashing down through the alter and the dead Geboch, bursting the body apart.
Yaldabet having fled, stood outside the diamond now, staring in towards it along with his flock as the ground began to split apart from the centre out. The alter stone and the body tipped over into the widening wound in the earth. The very ground screamed and roared as it pulled apart from the centre down towards the Northern dolmen until it too was swallowed up.
For long moments they all watched agape. From below the crashing of falling rocks could be heard echoing up as though falling through to a vast cavern, until eventually all was silent.
Geflin was the first to stir and, hand on his sword hilt, cautiously climbed the slope towards the desecrated stone array followed with a measure of trepidation by Yaldabet. But before either of them could reach the edge a scream no earthly being could make rose up from the depths. Not a sound denoting fear or pain – this terrible inhuman sound rejoiced. Geflin and Yaldabet looked at one another and again Geflin saw fear and now uncertainly flicker across the teacher’s face. Another sickening scream arose and another, coming closer, losing the echo, entering the real world.
Most of the Theydonites hung back but others had joined Yaldabet and Geflin and terror gripped each brave heart like ice as a rotting, skeletal hand reached up, grasping at the grassy edges for purchase. Geflin caught but a glimpse of the grinning death’s head that followed it before, suddenly, a great, dark bird like creature dove from the sky above, straight as an arrow into the pit, knocking the clawing creature backwards with it as it went. More screams from decaying throats erupted but this time there was fear and pain in the cries that assailed the ears of those assembled above ground.
“Was that…was that?” Sabrian, a warrior Geflin had known since she was a baby asked him. Her voice full of the wonder of the child she had been once again.
“I have no idea what we have seen here today.” He turned abruptly to Yaldabet, grasping his robes at the neck and pulling his face towards his own. “Were those screaming things the gods you summoned Yaldabet? That creature from the pit. Was that one of your Ceidriat?”
“I…I…no…that’s…no,” was as much as the dumbfounded prophet could manage as he dragged his wide-eyed stare from Geflin back to the pit, his expression so pathetic, so uncomprehending that Geflin almost felt sorry for him. Abruptly, another screech, mercifully cut short, erupted from the depths below them and their attention snapped back. A thing, as foul as the one they had seen almost crawl into their world had been tossed up and onto the grass, where it lay still, a crumpled ruin, a mess of bones and old flesh that could once have been a man. A gory short-handled double-headed axe, then another were lobed up and over the edge on to the grass beside it, followed by the weapon’s owner. None of those who crowded as close as they dared had ever seen such a creature before - but they all knew the legends.
“So,” she said, getting to her feet, surveying those around her with a less than friendly stare, “there I was minding my own business when I have this bizarre dream. But I’m thinking to myself - in the dream – the way you do: it’s just a dream, nobody, not even mortals, would be stupid enough to summon the Horde down on themselves.” She nudged the inert form at her feet. “Then I wake up and I have this….compulsion to come here, and low and behold I find that’s exactly what you crazy bunch of thrill seekers are up to.” Grasping the end of her tail, she gave it a vigorous shake, dislodging a lump of congealing blood from the leonine tuft at the end and shivered out her wings, soaking the closest gawpers in gore. “So tell me, which is the backside needing the biggest kicking – or was this a cluster fuck up.”
The “Bizarre Dream”
Egt Dreth Caal, who would one day call herself Dascaragh the Cascaroch when she no longer remembered her name, slept. She had been sleeping for a very long time. She had become weary of living in the waking world; there was nothing for her there, all her enemies were dead, the battle was over and she had survived. There had been thirteen others, she recalled their faces but most of the names had slipped away. They had not all been killed by her of course, each one of the fourteen had had thirteen enemies. There were no allies among them. They were bound by their mutual hatred, nothing more. It was all she’d ever known. So she slept, her bed-chamber a hollow among rocks. She had been here for so long now that the landscape had accepted her as part of itself, even time seemed to have forgotten she existed. But there were those who had not.
Egt Dreth Caal’s mind shifted, a dream was stirring, but something was different. This was no ordinary dream. No hazy confusion or nonsensical whimsy to lighten the darkness, instead she saw herself, a self she had forgotten.
“We made it that you would forget,” voices - two, three, perhaps more - in unison.
She saw herself talking with urgency to a group of finely dressed men and women, regal in their bearing who regarded her and the others at her side with haughty disdain and shaking heads. Those who stood with her she recognised as her fallen enemies, but - and had there been anyone there who watching her they would have seen her forehead crease in confusion even as she slept - in this dream that was not a dream but a replaying of events, they were not her adversaries. She saw other winged beings like them, though their attire was different, simple robes, where as she and her group were dressed as though they had been travelling or indeed perhaps had come for battle, some had weapons, she could see her axes on her belt. But these others hung back from the discussion, confused, concerned, scared for them and intimidated by those ones who considered themselves superior.
The voices spoke to her sleeping mind again. "You are the Starborn, we - the Architects. We understand now as we did not then that you are not and never were our servants."
The image altered, now she was standing face to face with the one in charge - Eiherion, the Master Architect.
“You would dare accuse our brethren and sister of such an act, Dreth Caal?” he thundered, violet eyes flashing with fury and indignation. "You would have the audacity to have even suspected them of such deeds!”
She heard herself, her voice filled with barely restrained rage: “We protect not just you, Architect – we protect what you have created and protect the rules set in place for the good of all. We have seen them. They walk on this spliced dimension they have created. They set themselves on thrones and delight in the corruption of the minds of the mortals they have brought to being. They revel in the cruelty they inspire in those who are their disciples. They—“
The image changed. She was once more and observer. She saw herself and those who had stood with her in chains and her mind awoke to the memories. The trial, the satisfied faces of those they had accused whose confidence in the verdict had never wavered as they sneered and smirked at the imprisoned Starborn whenever they perceived themselves without witnesses, taunting them with their own guilt to which all others were blind. She saw one of the Starborn, one of the others, not of the fourteen, begging, pleading on their behalf but mostly for Egt Dreth Caal herself, whom she called "mgt puith bho” – "my little sister". Isidra, beautiful, wise, Isidra, golden and radiant Isidra with wings white as a summer cloud, tears spilling down her cheeks before Eiherion and those who sat in cold judgement over them. She saw herself twisting and pulling at her restraints, screaming at the Architects to open their eyes, she felt again the terrible fear, her heart racing, and utter hatred for the four poisonous ones.
A dog fox passing her place of rest pricked up his ears as she whimpered in her restless sleep.
The final words were spoken, the inevitable judgement made, the punishment decreed and Isidra rushed to her, grasping at her hand before she was pulled away. Egt Dreth Caal felt the rushing wind, but yet no air to breath, the burning, swirling blackness all around and in the dream she could almost see, could sense her mind being wiped clean of all she had ever known and replaced by the all-consuming hatred for her erstwhile co-accused, her allies, her friends – she saw the stricken face of poor Varr Callad Feigh - In Darkness Dwells – who’d only been with her to prove his valour, his worth, his right to love Isidra and then she saw herself awaken in a new world, saw herself arise a snarling, bloodthirsty, mindless killer.
The dream shifted and Eiherion, the Master Architect and the three others who had sat as judges appeared before her in her mind, but their finery was gone, the haughty expression wiped away and she understood they knew they had been wrong and that she and the others had spoken the truth.
“By the time we realised our mistake it was too late. Only you of the dispossessed Starborn remained alive. We let you sleep. There are no words for our pain and our folly. Our pride made us blind and deaf. Never again, never. There was nothing we could do to make amends, it is not even possible to bring you home again – you had been away too long. So we have tended this world around you, we have favoured it and given it all we could to make it a worthy burial site for your sisters and brothers and for you, also, in effect. The four - the Ceidrait as they called themselves were banished as you had been, but them we sent to oblivion. The world within the sliced dimension they created was washed clean, the mortals they inspired to life and corrupted, perished and there it should have ended with only the memory of what we had done to you and the others left to haunt our every moment. But now we believe the Ceidriat have returned. In truth they can be nothing more than nightmares, an evil essence but they have called to the souls of their contaminated people and will not let them rest. They want revenge and they want the world you were condemned to which is now so dear to us. If they find out that you still live, we have no doubt they would want to avenge themselves on you too. We believe they must have spent these passing millennium searching for the trace of Starborn on the pathways between worlds to claw their way through. As yet they cannot command the discontented dead; they are mindless beings who crave only to live again, their ranks swelling with kindred mortal souls which will not rest, but they can influence them - are influencing them. We have learned that the lost souls converge on your doorstep through one sent to warn us, a messenger from the Chancellors of the Nether Realm, a Daemoni ambassador – yes, Dreth Caal – these times are very different from those you knew. They call these discontented souls the Horde and they talk of a power behind them, urging them on, guiding them - the Horde Lords is their term. We believe it to be the Ceidriat. So you must awaken now, Dreth Caal. You must stop them – our hands are tied, since the actions taken by the Ceidriat our powers have been limited, we ourselves were judged for our actions and theirs and found wanting, there is little we can do, even with good intent on our created worlds once life comes to be. If the Horde finds a way through, all will be lost. The world on which you rest - a good world - will die. We have called it Paeolaith – Remembrance.”
Now truly nightmarish images flooded Egt Dreth Caal's mind of the horror rot by a Horde incursion: malevolent entities invading the bodies of the living; trapping their souls within them; trespassing and ransacking their minds and memories; bringing screaming insanity and living death. Infected mothers slaughtered their children, children their sleeping parents, the land poisoned by their presence and dying and, eventually as the bodies finally collapsed and could no longer be made to stand, the grey fog of their passing hanging over barren soil.
Egt Dreth Caal awoke with a start. At first she could not even open her eyes as she slowly returned to consciousness; lichen had grown over her face in patches and sealed the lids shut. She scraped it away and yawned, her movements sending ten generations of nesting mice scurrying from beneath her, while long-suffering spiders watched their beautiful webs torn apart as she crawled out into the sunlight, squinting around and stretching out her arms and wings in slow jerky movements.
Egt Dreth Caal had work to do; a new enemy required her attention it seemed. She would have liked to have given some time to honour those Starborn who had died on this world, she'd then have liked to have given the Architects and earful or two but she didn't know how. She'd just have to shout rude things into the ether when she had the time but she didn't feel there was any to spare right now, and truly biting, inspired profanities, the kind that really hit the mark, are not a thing that’s creation should ever be rushed.