This is a story set in my group's homebrew gaming world that I have been working on and off on for about ten years now. I welcome any feedback, questions, or comments from anyone who would be generous enough to read it as I write. I can't promise a specific speed or rate of updates, though I will do my best to keep them semi-consistent around the general chaos of the rest of my day to day life. =)
Thank you in advance, and hope you enjoy!
Part One: White
Act One: The Usurper
She burns, blind in the storm of black fire.
The heat of the flames is unmistakable, impossible to ignore; but for all their inferno they shed no light, no warm glow accompanies that relentless tormenting fury. It is the perfect torture, the most exceptional punishment: the destruction of the body and mind by fire while denying the victim even the slightest glimmer of hope in the form of sight. It is a pure flame, a weapon of cleansing and scourging.
The body burns, flesh and bone surrendering to the unceasing wrath of the inferno. The mind is seared, memories scorched to dust by the everlasting hunger. And still it burns, still the black flame desires more. But she has nothing left to give; after unknown times of ceaseless torment her body lies wrecked and broken, her mind devoid of her former self. Only her soul remains, and for all its hunger the ebon fire cannot devour it.
Its feast is done. As its final act, the burning storm turns its fury in upon itself, rending a hole in the fabric of reality as it is known. The portal is short-lived, but it is all that is needed; the ruined body is cast from the eye out back into the world from whence she came, its scorning complete. The black flame has fed and now it returns to the oblivion, dwindling back into the Void that spawned it, back to the place where lost souls dwell.
As for her: body and mind scarred by the fire's wrath, soul tainted by the Void's touch, she is cast again into the world of the living, devoid of all she once was. Born anew, to live anew. Only time will tell which road she walks; the only certainty is that never shall she feel the touch of the black flame again... save, perhaps, in the deepest halls of Hell.
Chapter One: Agony
Disorientation and pain were my first sensations, shortly followed by a pair of voices.
Both the voice that spoke and the voice that answered were unfamiliar to me. Unfamiliar voices shouldn't have been that much of an oddity, I reflect, unless I expected to be alone. The larger problem, however, was that one of those voices was supposed to be my own. It seemed very strange for my own voice to sound unfamiliar enough to me to feel necessary to linger on the problem for that long.
Of course, looking back I was in the midst of several other problems at the moment, so in a way it was merely an addition to an already-long list. The first of these was that I was in a great amount of pain over my entire body, the second was that I seemed to be devoid of any clothing or personal belongings, and the third was that I had no idea where I was or for that matter who I was. I had only just managed to open my eyes a few seconds earlier, after the other voice had roused me from whatever netherworld I had drifted into, or perhaps out of; I wasn't quite sure what I had been expecting to see once I did so but I was absolutely certain that this was not it.
I was laid on my back in the middle of a stone grotto, obviously somewhere deep underground. The walls were rough and uneven, blatantly of natural creation, and devoid of any sort of additions that would lead me to presume this was anything more than a natural stone cavern inhabited by nothing more intelligent than wild animals. There was a distant echo of steady rumbling suggesting a large current of moving water somewhere within the tunnels, perhaps a stream or river, maybe even an underground falls. Light filtered in from deeper down the tunnels leading out of this chamber, but the only direct source of illumination came from a narrow shaft above me but slightly off to the right.
It was unnerving that I was unable to recall any sort of memory regarding how I came to be here, much less why I had no belongings or more importantly clothing. The caves were comfortably warm, thankfully, but the voice had assured me I would not be alone for very long and finding some measure of modesty suddenly rang quite high on my current mental list of priorities, despite that list not being very long. The agony to which I had awoken had mostly subsided by this point into a throbbing soreness that still permeated every inch of me, but it was a pain that I could tolerate for the time being.
For the first time since wakening I turned my gaze on myself as I struggled to gain control of my exhausted limbs and find my way to my feet. Somehow, once again, I was greeted with a sight I knew was terribly out of place, despite that I could not have identified my expectations otherwise: my skin was a dark brownish red in shade, visibly scarred and burnt over all of myself I could see, riddled with breaks and cracks. The whole of it reminded me of a barren wasteland, scorched and broken by the heat of a relentless desert sun; even though this thought came to my mind so swiftly, I could not recall where I had ever seen such a thing before. It was a sufficient explanation for my current trouble, at least; I had no problems understanding that if my body looked like this it was supposed to hurt. Where such all-consuming wounds had originated from, I could only....
No sight no sound no voice only PAIN
Wracking pains struck my mind as my thoughts wandered, causing me to double over and fall to my knees, clutching at my head and sobbing in sudden agony. It was temporary, a few moments at the most before the pain was gone as swiftly as it had come. I slowly untangled my hands from my hair as I rose again to my feet. I turned to those hands, and I was again all the more surprised by what I saw: my fingers ended in small bony thorns, a dull shade of grey-white, sharply tipped like a tiny weapon. The few strands of my hair that had pulled free in their grasp were long and wavy, reddish black in shade; the color made me think of blood, and my stomach lurched queasily.
The voice came again, this time clearer. "Did you hear me? Are you okay?"
It was a man's voice, deep and baritone and practiced in carrying over long distances. He was experienced in searching these tunnels for... for what? Whatever I was doing here, I guessed. Am I lost? Perhaps that was it. I was lost and he had come to retrieve me. His voice was coming from above, through the shaft where the light was descending. I could call back to him from there.
I jumped at the sound of my own voice. Again it was disturbingly unusual, not only unfamiliar but nothing like I expected I would sound like. How do I not know my own voice? What...? I shoved the thought away, not willing to revisit the pains that questioning my state had summoned previously.
Furthermore that wasn't what I had meant to say. I had wanted to say "Down here", or something similar that would direct his attention towards my location. What did I say? And why did I say it?
There was a shuffle of something moving against stone, distant and vague and blurred by the constant growl of the water deeper within the caves. Moments after, the voice returned, this time slightly clearer. Even if I hadn't said what I'd meant to say, apparently he'd still gotten the message. "Good, okay! Can you tell me your name?"
I felt myself frown deeply. I couldn't remember anything about myself. What I was supposed to look and sound like both I simply couldn't recall, other than knowing what I currently looked and sounded like were both wrong somehow. Likewise, my identity had escaped me. I simply didn't know.
"Ulram ku'ryss," I replied, and scowled again at the voice that came at my command. Why can't I speak normally? Every attempt to say something came out in that twisted gibbering. My throat burned raw, and my head was throbbing; I needed... what? I needed to be able to think straight, for one, but whatever sort of trauma had overcome me had obstructed any attempts at that, and the consistent pain throughout my body did not help.
"Kar-reesh?" the voice answered, a vague approximation of the last word I'd said. "Karish?" he echoed, more confidently. "Hang on, we're coming down, but we have to go the long way, this shaft's too narrow. Don't wander, we'll find you!" There was a scraping and shuffling in the distant above, then all was silent save the dull roar of the water. He was gone, presumably off to fetch whatever companions he had and make their way down into the tunnels to find me.
Meaning I had only a few short minutes to find some way of concealing myself before they arrived. It was a little odd, I even thought in the moment, that given my current situation I was so concerned about modesty, but I didn't take any time to ponder the issue. I was confused enough by everything else and asking further questions had only brought more pain.
Of course, given the cavern I was currently in was empty of everything save myself, there was nothing here that would be useful in solving that problem. So my options before even beginning were reduced to finding a place to hide and wait until they arrived and hope I could communicate with them - given this strange speech impediment - and ask for something to cover myself with before coming out to them, or to disobey the order to remain where I was and go looking for something in the other tunnels of the cavern. The main issue with both was that I didn't know which way they would be coming from, so either hiding or wandering the tunnels could put me right in front of them when I least expected it. I wandered in a circular path around the room, glancing down the spiderweb corridors branching off from this grotto; most twisted and snaked after a short distance, limiting my vision distance with a sudden wall of stone unless I progressed some ways down the path. I was, however, able to discern that most of the tunnels on what I had - mostly arbitrarily - decided was the "left" side of the room were headed on a mostly downward grade, and those on the "right" headed more upward, toward the surface. Chances were, or at least I hoped, that anyone descending from the surface would come in from the "right" side of the room; with that in mind, I slipped down one of the "left" corridors and pressed myself behind a curve in the wall, listening intently to any sound from the grotto or any sound at all that disturbed the otherwise-constant rush of water somewhere deeper within.
In all truth it was impossible to determine the passage of time to any reasonable estimate, even in hindsight. The cave was an unchanging constant, the filtered light from above too distorted and reflected to truly use as a gauge for the passing of time until darkness and light changed places. It was ether day or night, and as far as I could tell that was all there was to it. I guessed I wasn't far from the surface though, for shafts to climb directly to the top where the light could reach through, so the wait must not have been too long; then again, if all the corridors were as winding as the few I had investigated, it could have been some significant wait. Regardless, it was some passage of time before the sound of metal and leather on stone broke the monotony of the cavern's rumbling stillness. Two voices, speaking to each other in low tones, followed the echoes of their footsteps as they descended the tunnels into the grotto.
"Yja," I called, not coming out from my hiding place; I snarled to myself and bit down on my lip in frustration, then clenched my eyes and forced myself to concentrate. I needed to speak so they would understand me! I knew their language, why couldn't I speak it? I murmured the phrase over and over under my breath, and after several repetitions it finally became the word I wanted to say, one I knew they would understand. "Stop." My voice was not as raspy in this language, and my throat burned less some from speaking, for both of which I was grateful. But it still didn't sound like what I had expected of myself, and I still could not remember what I had expected, or why.
"Karish?" It was the voice of the man from above, the one who had spoken to me through the shaft. I heard him take a few steps forward.
This time he did. "Are you okay? We came to help. Where are you?"
"I am... hiding." I paused, focusing as best I could to keep from slipping back into the other tongue, the one that felt more natural to speak but left my throat raw in the process. "I need clothing. Put something on the ground and leave." There was a murmur from the man, followed by a woman's voice in the same low tone, and a few short quiet laughs followed by gruff scolding, then a bustling of movement; I leaned my head around the corner and saw no one in the room, and as requested a pile of something in the middle of the chamber. Rather than sort through it here and risk interruption, I gathered the whole up in my arms and retreated back into the safety of the tunnel.
The lent clothes were moderately heavy, obviously designed for wear and travel in places such as these caves where they would need to endure significant abuse; they consisted mostly of tough leather and thick cloth, dark browns and blacks and deep reds in color. They were obviously not designed for me, either: the pants far too long, the shirt too tight, the boots heavier than I would have chosen. But I was in no position whatsoever to complain, and simply being clothed again brought with it a sense of comfort I had lacked since awakening.
Once fully dressed, I found a small leather satchel had been buried under the clothing; inside I found containers holding various objects, liquids, and many things I could not at the time put names to. Curiosity mingled with apprehension greeted me with each discovery, and with them the understanding that if I could remember more of my forgotten self I would probably know what each of these things was, and possibly what they did or why they would be needed or wanted. For now though I simply gave the container's contents a quick browse then closed it again and carried it back into the middle of the chamber.
"I am finished," I said in no particular direction, and waited.
Two figures - a man and a woman - came out of the "center" tunnel of the "right" side of the room, dressed similarly to the clothes they had provided for me and carrying similar packs along with various tools and other supplies I did not recognize. Neither of them resembled me in any manner other than basic physical similarities - two arms, two legs, one head - and the startled looks on their faces and the shock and horror in their eyes was enough to tell me my appearance was not what they had been expecting either. The man - the speaker at the shaft, I assumed - had piercing blue eyes, dark black hair cut short with a sprinkling of grey, and a stern expression that only barely did not mask his surprise, flanked by a short goatee and thin mustache. The woman was darker-skinned and had longer black hair, with brown eyes and a more wary posture. A large metal disc rested over her pack, though I couldn't get a good look at it from my position, and around her neck hung a silver chain holding a squarish pendant, etched to resemble a pair of doors. It seemed vaguely familiar to me, but again not in a way I could immediately recognize.
"Karish?" the man repeated yet again, taking another step forward. I fought the urge to retreat from him, holding my ground through sheer force of will; if he intended me harm he would have done it while I was unable to defend myself and devoid of protection. Doubtful that he would have gone through the effort to descend into the caverns if he was not honest in his intent to aid me. Or at least, so I hoped.
"Is that my name?" I finally asked, looking the pair over. The man did not flinch, and his expression had gained a stony facade that completely hid any apprehension he might have still felt. The woman remained in her wary stance, one hand resting on her pendant. "I don't remember," I added, trying to make myself seem less threatening. I might have been afraid of them, but they seemed equally fearful of me, and it was all I could do to attempt to appear as harmless as possible.
"We saw fire and an explosion and came to see if someone was injured," he continued. "Are you hurt?"
"I hurt," I answered after a moment. "But I... can travel without problems, I think. I... don't know... what happened to me, how I got here, I don't remember anything."
"You need to see a priest," the woman barked, her voice deep and stern. She turned to her companion. "We should move."
"She's right," the leader agreed with a nod, not turning his gaze away from me. "Karish it is then, until your memory comes back or we get you to a church and get you help. Come with us and let's get out of these caves."
The dull rumble of the water in the background had long since become so normal to me that I almost didn't notice it anymore, which might have been why I didn't understand when the pair began glancing about wildly. It wasn't until it had become a full-fledged roar that the change in the sound finally dawned on me, and it was only shortly after that the ground began to shake and quake violently. Unprepared, I fell to my knees then onto my side, clutching at a jutting stalagmite a few feet away as the only stable handhold I could find; the two did likewise, scrambling for the walls and grabbing anything they could hold onto that didn't seem to be giving way in the tempest. It was over shortly, but both looked visibly worried when it finally passed and they fought their way back to their feet.
"This is not good," the man said quietly, staring down the tunnel from whence they'd come. There was no longer light descending from within.