A young girl’s hands slipped around the branch of the tree as she made her way up one at a time. Grumbling as the tears fell down her face in a rush the young seven year old kept to the large Efferis tree in the palace gardens. “What do I care if I’m failing my math class? The Tutor just doesn't help a’tall!”
Nimbly pressing forward as she kept her angered words to herself she finally made it to the top of the large pine like needle leafed tree and nestled into the branches that supported her best. Here she could see all the palace grounds and the city that stretched out from it as she looked out from atop the hill her home was constructed on. “They can’t make me do it! They won’t!”
The startling flash of memory caused the woman to stir in her bed. Hair frizzed with the night’s tossing and turnings, nightgown stuck to the moon white skin with sweat and a panting breath from the now frazzled Rina. Years had passed since she last remembered anything from her childhood, and now here she was having that same nightmare. “Why now of all times do I begin to remember?”
Flopping back into the hard straw mattress of the inn’s bed, Rina stared up at the ceiling, brooding off the rest of the memory and its significance before uttering a curse to the Maker on High when sleep eluded her again. Sitting up she meandered her way through the halls of the upper quarters of the tavern and slipped to the baths to wash and wake herself completely. Dressing in the plainest peasantry she had, Rina made her way down the stairs to an early breakfast and then out the doors again to the stables.
“Could I purchase a horse please?” And with that she was off, back to wandering the empty lands that were left in the aftermath of wars and plagues, seeking her redemption, but why had she remembered her childhood so vividly? There could be only one reason. Rina was getting closer to a temple. She had to find it, she needed to find out which element this was and how far the Taint had spread into it. Only then would she unravel the mystery to her dream.
Smiling, Rina was glad that she had managed to, at last, find her first temple. Reining her horse off the beaten path and into unknown of the forests around the small village, which she never really cared to get the name of, Rina brought herself closer to the elusive temple. “Judging by the area my hooved friend, I believe we’re on our way to the Temple of Nature. Brilliant, just what I need, to be accosted by Treants, dryads, and forest creatures. Well…let us go then.”
Hours passed as she wandered through the wooded area before she came to a clearing. Looking at her exhausted mount Rina knew it would be too cruel to push the beast further. Gracefully she dismounted and brought the horse to a clear running stream in the middle of the rocky clearing. Careful of the creature’s legs, Rina let the horse drink as she looked up. The path to the temple had led her close to the craggy edge of the mountains. She sighed turning the creature away with a good smack on his rear to send him home. The steep rocks were not a friend to large beasts of burden. Watching the horse disappear back into the wilderness for a moment, Rina turned her attention back to the crag and the goat trails inside. This would not be an easy climb and more importantly, this was not the Nature temple as she thought. From the looks of where the path led her, it was going to be a temple of Earth.
Buried deep into the mountains long before she was born, Rina had heard stories of how the Ancients of the Dwarven people had carved the Halls of Earth deep into the granite stones that surrounded the world. One of the walled creations they had made inside the stone was a temple in gratitude for the earth allowing them to shape the stone into tunnels. It was here that the Order built their first Sanctuary and those gifted with the ability to advance the stone and move the mountains with their magic took refuge in their learning and aiding. It was within those very walls that the Soul of Gaea had found its way into the wealth the dwarves enjoyed. Because of the Temple of Earth being so close to it, pilgrims would come and pay tribute to the Soul and offer belongings. In their greed the Dwarves took the wares and were later punished for it by the world itself when the rich veins, now suddenly bare around the temple, were abandoned. This drove the city folk to seek wealth elsewhere and the devoted temple keepers eventually dwindled to a handful.
Rina mulled this over as she brought herself over rocks and streams. This would mean delving deep into the ancient Dwarven ruins that surrounded this place, and that was only if she had the right location. Steadying herself up on one of the taller rocks, she took a peek at the progress she had made and then looked for signs of Temple ruins in the forest. There were none mingled in with the trees and glades. She had made the right choice after all, that or something was guiding her for when she moved to bring her hands upon the stone to turn back, a flash came forward.
It pulled her through halls, whatever it was, dragged her between cracks and threw her through corridors. The disorienting flash was showing her the path needed to get to the inner Sanctuary of a dilapidated Dwarven city. Over the fallen stones, turn to the right, down between the arched pillars to the door of the temple. Suddenly she was back in her own thoughts again and gasping for air as if pulled from the depths of an ocean. She was in the right place. “Maker preserve….”
Rina sat for a few moments before standing up to make her way back through the crags and into the door that the vision had shown her. Darkness was setting in and that would mean the creatures she hoped to avoid would be sleeping and a new set of monsters would wake to feast upon those willing to stray off a path at night. She was far from the city watches and highway patrols; the only person she could rely on right now was herself. With Death at her heels, Rina ran to the door. As it came into sight, the sun was dwindling and Rina was able to take another rest before slipping inside and closing it shut from the monsters outside. However, a rank smell touched her nose and sent her reeling back into the door she just shut. “Taint…and the Restless dead wander here. I should have expected this.”
This brought her a new set of problems, having just escaped the frying pan only to find herself in the fire. With a sigh, she pulled her bag to her front and started to dig for her Sunstone and the tools she’d need to exercise the foulness in these halls. One by one, she pulled out a small vial of glowing red liquid, a bottle of clear water, and a long staff from within the magical bag. A small sigh escaped her lip as she kneeled down to line them up on the floor brushing bare skin along the smoothed carved stone path.
Another flash came through the walls, giving her a message of warning. Close to the door of the temple there was a guardian, or was it inside of the temple? It was hard to tell but it seemed as if it wasn't put here by the Dwarves, but by a type of magic that was much older. The Aelter swirled around the place she connected then dispersed. Whoever cast the warning could bend it so easily that there was no pain afterwards. This left her perplexed. It wasn't her brother’s army or men who left this; this was meant to deter people. “Interesting….”
Standing and pulling the staff along with her, she broke the red vial against the floor and let it send its sparks into a ball that gathered above her head and then dropped down into her hand as a solid stone. The light it gave was bright enough to be blinding in the pitch of the air around her and then dulled as her eyes adjusted. Tucking the staff into her arm she fumbled a bit with the ribbon of a blue tulle pouch, dropped the stone in and tied the bag to her belt loop. It shimmered brighter to compensate for the dimming affect the bag had and then settled again on a comfortable level of light. “Much better, now I can see my hands and send off an attack should something foul draw near,” She thought out loud.
The map that had been drawn in her mind proved useful and had led her along paths that actually drew her away from the attackers she was so worried about encountering, guided only by a foggy vision and sparks of sensation that told her she was going the right way. The path was longer and winding than the vision had made it seem and in some places cramped and hard to move in. Collapsed walls made it hard to maneuver and she found herself often brought to a crawling squirm to get between to the other side of the path. Exhaustion was setting in and she found herself pausing frequently to rest and treat any gashes. She couldn't stop yet until she was in the temple, passed the Poisoned Earth she had encountered a few turns back. She wasn't sure if it had seen her come this way, and she didn't wish to risk it. Pushing herself into a sprint, she made through the arches.
There beyond the arches was a garden, left alone to grow into a tangled mess of wild and unruly plants that marked the outer courtyard of the temple. The sound of trickling water marked that there was a spring nearby that fed the garden and the sun shaft that had been expertly carved and set with reflective mirrors to bring the plants and trees light glinted off the rushing water. This was a place of peace, and Rina sensed that old magic here again, this time as a means of stopping the time around this hallowed ground. So pulling her bag up and mustering her strength, Rina pushed open the door to the large temple and then shut it behind her. Now she could relax, now she could take a moment to sleep, there was safety in this temple. Pulling her bedroll from her bag and then the thick winter blanket, Rina curled up to rest and finally get the elusive sleep she needed.
A dream came as she slipped further into sleep. A man was sitting at a desk in a black shirt, a style that was rather foppish, with puffy sleeves synched at the wrist, long cuffed and bordered with lace. His legs wore tight black pants that were bunched in behind the knee from being worn and bent with walking and sitting, black leather boots that tucked in at half calf with a slight heel to them for height. Thin hands wore black gloves with a ruby ring upon one finger, a blood drop in a silver setting to draw eyes in. The torso donned a blood red vest coat companioned with a silver pocket watch, then finally gave way to a neck with a red neck bow and framed with long white hair. Up the eyes went to a stern face with red eyes, a wicked grin and then laughter. Who was that man she gazed upon? Why was he invading her dreams?
Startled awake and filled with a sense of dread, Rina tucked away her sleeping gear, nibbled a ration, and went off to the inner sanctum. Another warning triggered, screamed in her ear and followed by a gust that nearly sent her flying from the Inner courtyard.
“DO NOT DISTURB THE DEAD AND THE CONDEMNED!”
“BUT I MUST! This temple needs to be purified!” There was no answer as Rina braced against an unseen force that moved like tempest of gales. Her arms shielded her from the dirt in the air and kept her hair from lashing her face as everything flapped wildly than died as suddenly as it started. Tension did not escape with it though. She was left shaking as she brought a tentative hand to the wall where the door should be. With a glow, light shot through the stone and the magic started to decode who tried to enter it.
Stone rippled in the light and became crystal. Sliding open, the now purified door let her into the inner sanctum and then shut behind her as she fumbled to put her Sunstone away. As she moved about carelessly, she felt something cut into her flesh. Looking up there were crystals everywhere; grown long and sharp. They had overgrown the pathway and she couldn't find a reason why crystals would grow into spikes, but her keen eyes caught a glint in the sun shaft as she inspected the scene. There on the floor was a blade, covered in rust-colored blood. Silver filigreed hand guard, a French rapier. It was a lighter, very thin blade, like those used for gentleman’s duels, discarded there on a Sanctuary floor. Green eyes followed up in the direction it was laying, pointing at the door with the blade, the hand must not be far.
There in the crystals was the ripped glove that she had seen in her dream, the now obvious silk of it torn through by a sharp crystal, and the hand impaled. Following the hand she found the arm, the shirt torn and tattered, then the torso, then a head dropped down and hidden in white hair. The man from her dreams, literally, was impaled on the crystals, many at a time stabbing through his chest and body in random points.
Fear sunk in when she realized that the man had been sealed in here. Left for eons in the dark until someone opened the Sanctuary and the sun shaft to bring light into this place. Yet not one bit of him was decayed. Not one bit was Tainted or left to be the Restless Dead. Gulping, Rina couldn't see any other way through. She needed to either free the man, or break a path around him, and the bridge to the Sphere was too narrow for her to move around. Fear gripped her gut as she looked at him, there was a reason his corpse was left here. She knew she shouldn't tamper, but there was no choice.
“Oh guardian of earth, I beseech thee, retract the thorns before me, these roots of earth. Please remove the hindrances before me, so that I may make new this temple dedicated to thy holiness.”
Slowly she splashed the vial of clear water onto her hand and then touched the crystals with a now glowing hand. A pulse of power shot through her, and then centered on breaking the seals on the crystals. A shock-wave shot through the room, shattering each and every crystal in her way. Sharp shards cut along her skin followed by an unexpected the blast of magical energy that sent her flying. It slammed her against the door she had just entered not more than a few minutes ago and it hurt like someone dragged her through the River. As the reaction slowed she braced and just looked up to see the man who had once been dead start to mend flesh and cloth back into perfection as he floated down to the bridge below him.
“W…Who a….are you!?” she stuttered towards him, and then winced when she received no answer but cold red eyes. He was swift, scooping her fragile form into his arms, grabbing her wrist and bending it away from the staff leaving it to clatter lifeless on the floor and then pulled her hair back tightly then her head along with it to look down at her. “Célestin.”
Teeth met flesh and sank in. Pain roared into her thoughts as her free arm reached towards the lifeless Orb that would send a healing wave through the land. “Please….Have to…” but the blood was draining fast and her eyes were fading as he watched from the corner of his eyes her desperate reach. His thumb pushed into her wrist as he pulled the arm tighter and drank, replenishing himself as if he were like any other child of the night, and then caught her limp form.
“Just enough to make you sleep. Now is not the time for you to be running around like a git. Rina you should wake up soon, and know then what your destiny is.”