Part 9 – Destinies in Sight
Jala scowled at Krung Nak To, subjecting the strange freshly-thawed-out enigma to intense scrutiny.
She remembered Elder Linna’s words ‘Never trust wolf-whisperers!’, ‘Be wary about pyromancers!’ and ‘You can only trust Blood Ravens before high noon on days that don’t have an S in their name!’ She had never given her advice about trusting a Star Witch.
Memories of Linna and her homeland served to firm her resolve. She’d travelled a long way so why not? She’d left the village to find her destiny. If this ‘Kru’ could bring her closer to realising it, of course she should trust her.
‘Fine, erm, Kru. I am willing. Tell me of my destiny…’
A capricious smile of tarry-teeth greeted Jala’s decision. ‘Oh joyous!’ the Star Witch sparkled with the glee of a little girl and Jala, Freya and Marek the Stoat were taken slightly aback.
The woman drew herself up, shook off her sleeves to free her limbs up and danced forward with sudden tremendous enthusiasm. ‘Let us see destiny!’
With a surging forward charge the Star Witch was on top of Jala, lengthy ancient fingers shoved into ear holes and palms massaging the young northerner’s temples. Jala gazed into the glowing blue eyeball – an eyeball that appeared to expand exponentially and eat up entire reality around.
The Star Witch’s stunning hypnotic blue pupil shrank then disappeared as blinding whiteness whirled away into a clouding celestial cosmos of star constellations.
Immense. An infinite unfathomable beyond the comprehension. Comets and nebulae and galaxies and universes and invisible omnipotent gods, impossible but envisioned because for a moment Jala could see forever.
Forever swiftly fell away. The stars were swept away in a hideous blaze. Jala’s senses were assailed by a very new, very vivid set of impressions. Her consciousness reeled as the vision lurched into fresh hell.
Flames danced, billowed and bellowed. Licking and lacerating oppressive smoky air, they gave way to the gravest notion that Jala had ever confronted and would ever confront. Skulls were everywhere and they were piled high in epic mounds. All around, a wasteland of charred bones, chunks of blackened flesh and the sorry shattered skeletal remnants of mercilessly slaughtered former-beings.
The skulls all wore the same expression. It was an abhorrent expression of absolute helpless fear in the face of an unavoidable death that the no one would wish on the worst of the worst enemies.
Jala raised her arms in a futile effort to shield herself from the flaming carnage and, thus, came to acknowledge the state of her upper limbs. They too were aflame, skin singeing and blistering, embers smouldering beneath the cracks in crisping flesh. Between mutilated fingers – for several were missing entirely or hacked into useless stubbiness – she carried a colossal emerald shard. Blood dripped and dribbled from the pointed end of the beautiful great green gemstone.
All at once a tumultuous roar rose from the depths of the deathly bone valley and the morbid mountains shuddered and quaked. Dread black wings swooped upwards and flapped with ferocious wrath. The obsidian dragon smashed through the flames and skulls and with its cavernous maw opening wider it surged straight at Jala.
Blink. The dragon and scorched deathscape was gone and Jala now saw Krung Nak To hopping backwards, fwapping frantically at her right breast. Marek’s tiny sharp teeth were embedded in that breast and holding the stoat’s hindparts was a very worried-looking Freya.
The witch succeeded in shaking off her assailants and then shook herself off before shrieking. ‘CHILD! WHAT IN AAGB’S NAME? YOU BROKE MY SACROSANCT SPECIAL PSYCHIC CONNECTION!’
‘But! But! But I thought you were hurting her!’ remonstrated Freya, spluttering as she stroked the slapped stoat.
Kru laboured a heavy sigh and facepalmed her empty eye socket as she sought to suppress her irritation. ‘Silly, silly child! You can’t… arrckk!’ Witchy fingers cracked, glimmered a light blue and touched at the air as if breathing in fresh composure.
‘Look… once the telepathic threads of fate have been enjoined it’s catastrophic to… oh, oh! Oh! I feel that! Yes! I still have a few prescient strands wiggling!’
The Star Witch jolted and rapped at her forehead.
‘Yes! Yes! Maybe I can reclaim them from the aether! Yes! I’ll have you here, plucked from the Beyond!’ She lurched forward again to embrace Jala and the glowing eyeball engulfed the barbarian’s mind’s eye once again, senses overcome by that immense blinding white.
This time, however, it felt like a diluted experience and there was no picture of eternal numinous wonder. Krunk Nak To’s sole pupil dilated this time and morphed into the shape of her whole head.
‘Man who wears nought but trinkets!’ the face howled suddenly before shifting around in the white metaphysical whirling. ‘Silver stoat!’
It convulsed again. ‘Birth during battle! “Spare me! I am but a humble turnip!” Stick not stones!’ Each random statement was delivered in a wildly different tone as if the Star Witch was schizophrenically searching for a preferred stage persona.
‘Aye, the amber moss! The Amber moss!’ she intoned with an erudite air before pepping up to a sing-song spree of ‘bread! Blessed heartparsley bread is the answer!’
Suddenly, straight-faced, a deadpan return to something resembling regular form. ‘I’m done. No more.’
Blink. Jala was back above by the Fountain of the Meek. Freya and Marek looked confused. The Star Witch simply stood there as if nothing had happened.
‘Wha? Wha-what just happened?’ Jala stuttered as sweat beads the size of butterbeans ran down her clammy cheeks.
‘We accessed your destiny,’ Kru calmly explained, ‘but of course that got cut off.’ She shot a withering frown in the direction of Freya and Marek then fixed herself back to an amiable air. ‘I managed to gather a few snippets of things to come which much have strayed into our shared vision across the supernal, transcendental vistas but, alas, my connection was feeble and I’m sure it made little, if any, sense…’
‘So all those things, those phrases you uttered and all that I saw…’
‘Oh, my young dear don’t even try,’ she replied with a nonchalant air, more mentally occupied in silently wishing a minor accident on Marek than in the concerns of Jala. ‘I can’t help. I don’t know what you saw. I don’t know what your destiny is.’
‘But you were with me! Your eye! It opened it all up and you shared it all! Surely you did! You were in.. or there… oh, wherever or whatever it was you showed it to me!’
‘Ah, yes I showed you but I am merely an enlightening instrument in the unravelling of destiny that the Universe has ordained an individual. I do not retain knowledge which, naturally, is not really even supposed to be known…’
Unnerved, Jala to holler out, her usual fortitude fractured by the frightening fate she’d stumbled through. ‘But surely you must remember the… the…’ and then she came to an abrupt halt. She was trying to say things like ‘obsidian dragon’, ‘mountains of skulls’ and ‘my flaming mutilated fingers wielding a bloody great emerald shard’ but she couldn’t articulate them. Her voicebox simply failed to function as she opened her mouth.
‘Oh, please, don’t hurt yourself!’ Kru interjected. ‘You see there’s another aspect to the unveiling of future fate and that is that the querent can not speak of their foreseen destiny once they have experienced it via prescient special revelation.’ She then added with a black smile, ‘as facilitated by a fine practitioner of the esoteric magic arts, of course.’
For several minutes, Jala kept trying to say things along the lines of ‘I’m going to die a mutilated mess in the belly of a great black dragon in a flaming deathpit of bones!’ but the words failed to materialise as audible resonances. She gave up and they went unsaid, silently echoing within, chewing at her nerves and tormenting her bewildered mind.
‘I need help,’ she whimpered and then she said it again even louder. ‘I need help.’
Freya rushed forward to hug her troubled friend. The stoat likewise moved forward to offer some therapeutic furriness and heart-warming animal sympathy. After a meditative pause of empathy they all simultaneously looked up to Krung Nak To.
No words were needed. The Star Witch understood and felt a shift in the breeze that casts drafts across the corridors of time.
Kru started to speak. ‘You, my dears, are bold indeed but yes, I appreciate that your inexperience makes you vulnerable. You are far from home and find yourselves with strangers in strange lands facing strange circumstances.’
Jala rubbed looked down at the ‘FU’ cut into her midriff, got a flashback of flames and quickly returned her focus upwards again to Kru.
The Star Witch licked her lips and exhaled heavily. ‘Y’know I think I like you young women. I’m liking this new helping people thing. Yes… yes, this could be an interesting, fresh challenge.’
With a flighty flounce she hopped closer to her new acquaintances and reached out a hand. ‘It is true that you freed me after all those years boxed up down below in cold waiting so perhaps aiding you upon your quests is a fair return.’
Kru sniffed and scrunched her nose as if she detected an offensive odour. ‘Plus it is true that my presence here has lingered on long enough for an era. I desire new scenery…’
Upon their feet again, the trio and the stoat all stared at each other. ‘So where now?’ asked Jala, a tremor in her voice as the trauma of the revelatory visions continued to ricochet around her mind.
The white-haired woman with one eye smiled sweetly, ‘You wish for adventure!’ She turned to Jala. ‘You have a destiny to reach.’
The Star Witch slid over to Freya. ‘Your village was vanquished, child! I know you wish to find those responsible for its downfall.’
‘You mean you know where the Others who destroyed my village are?’ Freya blurted out excitedly.
‘No, little inquisitive one, but I have intuition and intuition leads me to look southwards. You know not aught of the Southlands, do you?’
Both shook their heads.
‘Oh, I think you will like a journey to the Southlands. Hum ha. I have not been there for so long. Really, it has some very picturesque and stimulating parts. The people and creatures you can find! The things that you can see and do!’
A flash of inspiration struck. ‘Oh! The grand port city of Stellastelathororn! Yes! Yes, let us go there!’
‘Stellastellawhat?’ questioned Freya. ‘What’s that? What about those that attacked my village? What about Jala’s destiny?’
‘It is all good, little one,’ assured the Star Witch, ‘for Stellastelathororn is the city where those seeking answers find solutions to their questions. Firstly, it’s a pretty, pretty city of dramatic architectural interest with a diverse population and thriving culture. It is also a crucial transportation, communication and trading hub that acts an integral centre from which to reach wider regions beyond so, altogether, it’s a practical destination to target…’
Observing the anxiety-caked faces of her newfound friends, the Witch filled in a final convincing point. ‘It is also a city of learning bolstering a great many archives, sheltering the most erudite individuals and the wisest sages of the realms.’
Kru edged in nearer as if sharing a solemn, intimate secret. ‘These Others. Perhaps there is knowledge of them in Stellastelathororn. It may be that someone with powers superior to my own can aid you, my little mossbotherer, or provide insight into what happened to the village.’
She seemed sincere. ‘Remember, your grandsire was my friend. I too wish to see his insulted predecessors avenged. I too would like to know the reasoning because this curious case of apparently unwarranted violence.’
The Star Witch turned to Jala. ‘You require help with the handling of your destiny, Jala? My work is done and I can offer no more and you can’t speak of the things you have seen but there are always ways and means.’
‘We shall seek out the Sablemagus Guild. That is, we shall travel to Stellastelathororn and see if the secret society’s seat of arcane power has sustained itself over intervening years. They were always a very quiet organisation, always so cultish that they operated on the very cusp of non-existence…’
‘And they might help me?’ Jala asked, a fresh sliver of hope slipping up her neckbone to nudge at the terrifying black dragon that flashed back and forth through her cerebral cortex.
‘”Might” is a mighty powerful word if you utter it with optimism. Now, let’s go. To the Southlands! To Stellastelathororn!’
Before Jala, Freya and Marek had a chance to object the Star Witch was striding again out of and away from the Fountain of the Meek. There was nothing for it. Both younger women looked at each other and came to a silent agreement of ‘I suppose we’ve got nothing to lose and it’s best if we follow her’.
They caught up to Krung Nak To who had suddenly halted for a moment to rest next to an overgrown Indigolily shrub. ‘Of course,’ she murmured, ‘we must decide how we go about getting to Stellastelathororn…’
‘Don’t you know the way?’ Jala asked, raising her eyebrows as Kru yanked a fistful of flowers from the shrub and shoved them down the front of her dress.
‘Why, I know three ways!’ came the exuberant reply. ‘There’s the Darksiren Sea, a sail down the Coast of Beguile rich with its marvellous aquatic monsters and roving marauders! Then there’s the pathway through the Frylkarn Forest, beauteous wooded realm ruled over by the hermit Hymb Elves if they’re still around these days. Alternatively, we could make our way to the Gruhzkär Mountains and journey through them, taking the tunnels carved by the Dholvian Dwarf-Folks.’
Her lip quivered and a sad, baleful look blanched her face for a few beats. ‘Oh, the Dwarfs. Once proud people with their resplendent subterranean cities and artisan expertise. They all perished when the Beige Plague swept through you know…’
Then she was back again into queer cheeriness, hands clasped earnestly in front of her new travelling companions. ‘So, what will it be then?’
‘They all sound dangerous!’ Freya exclaimed.
‘The risks are worth the end result!’ came the optimistic rejoinder.
Jala rubbed at her forehead again and sought to blank out the split-second glimpses of flaming death and nightmare dragons. ‘Yes, she’s right. But which route is the right route?’
Turning to Freya and Marek, she carefully weighed up the three options and wondered which of the ways to Stellastelathororn they should take… Prophecy
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