Songs of the Feallen
He stood there for several minutes. It was impossible. Everything he knew said so. The forest glade in this tower had been carved out of stone thousands of years before any of them had been born, and yet it was the same. He could see the spot on the ground where Sep had lain, an arrow jutting from his chest. There were five basins set around the tower, filled with frozen water, exactly where Eurich had dug his dew pits. He couldn’t say from which trees Eurich had snapped branches to build his small fire, but as he cast his eyes about the chamber he saw cracks in the stone trees that he was certain matched the trees in that glade. The place where Tewfik knelt, coaxing flames from frozen tinder was where Eurich had built his fire. It was impossible, but it was undeniable. This was an exact replica of the glade in the Great Forest.
Karl said nothing to Tewfik, but turned away to explore the tower further. He wanted to be alone to think, and while he knew that Tewfik was not an enemy, the man served the Last Elan, the only survivor of the Judgment of Noss. The last Elan was immortal. He had lived when these towers were built, may have helped in their building. It was possible that the glade in the Great Forest had been built in memory of this place, but how would that explain the basins, the fireplace and their location in relation to where Eurich had made his camp?
It was a mystery that sent a chill through Karl that even the cold of the tower couldn’t touch. The Virtues had abandoned mankind when they turned their back on them to worship Malasephus. In all that time no one had seen or heard from them. They were legend, myth. The only proof of their existence lay in the power of the runes and the Book of the Sumis, which contained the secret to working the runes.
People swore oaths to them, but they held no power. Thieves swore by the Judgment of Noss that they were telling the truth, but Noss never judged them. People in hardship asked for the intervention of Solace, but she never eased their suffering. Scholars praised Tomalis for wisdom, but many of them were still fools. The Virtues simply went away and left the world to their fallen brother. So why put their mark on Sep, after all these years?
Assuming that Tewfik was telling the truth, or that he was right when he said he could sense their mark, it meant they’d chosen him for a reason, and then, like they had thousands of years before, abandoned him when he needed them most. It angered Karl. Mankind couldn’t stand up to Malasephus alone. Noss may have imprisoned him, but what remained of that act? A body bound when the spirit could roam the world on the tides of the Beckoning, when his power reached across the entire land where ever shadow fell was not a being imprisoned. And the Beckoning made willing slaves of most of mankind.
Karl had escaped the temples in Jarick, fled to the west, seeking out the Tair, but he was the exception. Most men sought to become one with Malasephus, giving their flesh to obscene rituals in the hope of being transfigured and becoming one of the chosen, becoming one of the Feral. Those who were taken by the Beckoning in the moment of their death, retaining all the memories of the person they’d been, but their flesh filled with the Beckoning instead of a living soul.
How could the Tair who hunted such creatures, or the Sumisarians to whom the runes and the book of Sumis had been entrusted, hope to overthrow Malasephus? The Tair only sought to stem the tide of undead that walked the land at night, and to ward the villages and hamlets where people cowered behind rune warded walls. They never dreamed or spoke of anything but that.
Until now. Sep had been marked, given a power and through the transformation of his flesh, the means to do the impossible. An image came to Karl’s mind of a god standing alone and naked in the cold, clutching his chest. Malasephus, the god of the world, his flesh imprisoned but his spirit unbound. He had turned his prison into a fortress, but one man had dared enter this forbidden realm. One man had defied the god of the Beckoning. One man, one of the Tair, though he had never taken their oath. Sep of the Tair, who had become Vengeance. A man from whom the Feallen fled and before whom the Feral perished. Sep had struck and wounded Malasephus!
It was impossible, but in that moment, alone in a tower built by the Elan before their fall, Karl knew the truth. Sep had survived, somehow he had cut his way through countless enemies more powerful than he, shattered the fabled stone gardens of Malasephus, and penetrated to the deepest reaches of Malasephus’s realm, and done the impossible.
And in that act, that single act he planted the seed of hope in Karl’s heart.
"I am become Vengeance." They were Sep’s last words. The Elan, whom Malasephus had destroyed, cried out for it. The dead whom the Beckoning had taken pleaded for it, and the Tair who had lost to the Beckoning prayed for it, but only Sep had achieved it. He fell to his knees as he wept.
"Oh Sep, do you know the gift you have brought to us? Do you know what you purchased with your life? It was not in vain that you suffered. I will not forget, and I will make sure the world knows how one man stood tall and defied Malasephus."
In the distance he heard singing, not the imagined song of the wind, but a voice pure and melodic. A voice he recognized. Tewfik sang.
He couldn’t make out the words, but the voice was the most beautiful he’d ever heard. It belonged in these rooms, these halls where once the Elan walked in their innocence. It drew Karl back to the stone grotto where a warm fire blazed, melting the frost and filling the stone chamber with warmth for the first time in three thousand years. Tewfik stood in the center of the room, eyes closed. He sang in no language Karl had ever heard, and there was power in Tewfik’s voice. Tears streamed down his face, and Karl saw him for the first time for what he truly was. Not a son of the Feallen, not one of the fair faced killers whom men feared.
The room was filled with the sent of pine and aspen. Apple blossoms bloomed on the trees by the fireplace where Karl was sure none had been before. Out of the corner of his eye he saw birds flitting from branch to branch. The deer that he’d seen peering from the woods had half emerged, as if drawn by Tewfik’s song. And he felt the warmth of a summer breeze as it played through the leaves overhead.
Tewfik was transfigured, and Karl knew the secret Sep had spoken of, the secret of Feallen blood. They had not been made in mockery of the Elan, as he had always been taught. They were the Elan, fallen and corrupt, twisted by Malasephus and the Beckoning, but some remnant of what they had been remained in their blood, and this place had awakened it in Tewfik.
Sensing his presence Tewfik opened his eyes and smiled at Karl.
"I didn’t know, Tewfik. I didn’t know."
"Nor did I, not until I was bound in the Great Forest. Not until the last of my forbears came to me and freed me of the taint that destroyed us. At times, when I was there, I could feel my blood stir, a memory of what I was meant to be before the betrayal of Malasephus. Come, my blood is awake now, as it never has been except in the Forest. I’ll heal your wounds. "
Karl stood, watching tree branches sway in the wind. The stone deer watched him, alert but unafraid. "This is impossible, Tewfik. How can the forest be alive? It’s made of stone."
"Everything is made of earth, Karl. The bones of your body are made of stone. Trees grow from the soil. The fish in the sea, even the mighty ones, like Fruur were born of the earth. It is from whence all life springs, and ultimately returns. My ancestors were created to shepherd life. They were its essence. Their song made the stones wake up and sing with them. Is it any wonder they built this place to come alive when one of us sang here?"
"I wish… I wish Sep could have seen this. I wish he knew what he’d died for."
"I’m still fallen, Karl. I have a long way to go to fully redeem myself from the things I did while I was feallen. I can only bring this place partly awake. It slumbers still, which is for the best, I think. It was unwise of me to do this, but something in me cried out for it. I do not think Malasephus can feel it. He is dead to this kind of power, he forsook it long ago, and I do not think he can work it or his gardens would have been more than stone. There’s no power of life in him, not any more. All he is is death, but it is still unwise. My kin might feel it still, and they are not as I am.
"Come. Let me heal you before my strength wanes."
A thought exploded in Karl’s head. "Tewfik, the Elan were masters of life, they could restore youth with a touch, sing life back into the dead."
Tewfik shook his head. "I am a child of a race born from the fall of the Elan, not one of them. I have some of their power in me, but that is something only my master could do. Eurich has earned his rest; we should leave him in peace, and purify the vessel that bore his soul."
They didn’t speak as they prepared Eurich’s body for the fire. A search of the tower had led them to a room filled with lamps and barrels of oil. Another room held furs and boots, and other gear for winter travelers, and a third held dried meats and pastries frozen solid and dried out over long centuries that while not pleasant, were nonetheless palatable. They wouldn’t starve, and were better provisioned than Karl could have hoped for.
They let the fire die down as they prepared Eurich’s body. Karl, who had sent many friends to the flames, prepared the body with the ritual cuts. They had no sanguis to rub into the cuts, so they used oil instead, and when they were done, wrapped him in oil soaked cloth. As they prepared the body, Tewfik sang a sad wordless tune. There was no power to bring the stones to life, but there was something familiar about it.
"I’ve heard that before."
"It’s what we sing over our dead. They are immune to the Beckoning, so there’s no pyre, but we still mourn their loss."
"I’m not sure you should …" Karl stopped himself. "I’m sorry, Tewfik. I didn’t mean that, it’s just…"
"No," Tewfik shook his head. "It is not you, but I who should be sorry. You do not know the Feallen as I do. We are a terror to you, a thing to be feared. But they are still my people, and I weep for them. We are as a golden chalice filled with poison. Did you know my people sing of the Elan? They know the same lie you do, that we were made by Malasephus. I suppose there’s some truth to it. He did make our form, after all, and I suppose that’s why it’s easy to believe. A lie based on a truth has the feel of truth, and so we sing of the Elan. But my people do not know who they are, or why the songs are important. "
"But you want them to know, not just the truth. You want them to become what they once were. What you were here, in this room singing the stones to life."
"It’s a fool’s dream, to wish for what can never be, but yes, I wish it. They are evil, I know, but they are my people, and I love them, Karl. Solace help me, but I do."
They finished preparing the body in silence. Karl wished Tewfik would sing again, but couldn’t bring himself to ask. When they were done, Tewfik helped him lift the body onto the makeshift pyre. The rags ignited almost immediately and the smell of burning flesh, normally masked by the sweet perfume of sanguis, filled the chamber.
They spent the night there, warmed by the fire and surrounded by the ruins of a race destroyed by Malasephus. Tewfik was right to weep. If the Fallen Virtue could destroy a people whose songs could bring stone to life, what hope did the Feallen have of escaping him? For that matter, what hope did he and Tewfik have?
Filled with comfortless thoughts, Karl drifted to sleep.
They spent the next day provisioning themselves with the supplies they found, warm furs, better than what they’d stolen from the Feallen and food. Frozen for centuries, it was still palatable, if little else. They found oil for lanterns, and ropes and hooks and harnesses to climb with. They wrapped thin gauze around their eyes to cut out the glare of the snow, and when Tewfik opened the door at the tower’s base, hard work because it had frozen shut over the centuries, Karl looked out on a hazy world of brilliant white.
"This was a place people once came to, which means there should be a way down, but I don’t know how long it will take, or how much of the path remains. It may take days, or weeks to reach the plains. "
Karl nodded. "Let’s go. I want to be as far away from these towers as I can before the sun sets. "
Ice covered the stones, and the footing was treacherous. They moved slowly, and Karl kept glancing over his shoulder, fearing that Malasephus would return to his tower and see them, but he never saw the Fallen Virtue, or anyone else. He was relieved when they reached the cloud layer. He stopped then and turned to look once more up at the towers.
"We’re taking him home, Sep. It won’t have been for nothing, I promise."
He waited a moment, as if for an answer but heard only the wind. After a moment he turned and followed Tewfik down into the clouds.
A Season of Storms
Coming September, 2012