Sojourn’s End, Chapter 1
Even in the depths of my sleep, I can feel my heart pounding against my sternum as hard as a smithy’s hammer against an anvil.
I am trapped in a dream state. I try to awaken but I cannot escape the images that come at me silently:
A gigantic red demon squeezing me in his oversized fists, screaming at me.
A torture rack festooned with feral instruments aglow with corruption, reaching out for me.
Electric discharges burning my eyes and face.
Blood flowing out of me in a dozen places.
Parts of me ripped off, then healed back. Then ripped away again, over and over the cycle goes, endlessly.
“NO!” I scream aloud in the night air as I awaken. I am ready to fight, sitting bolt upright in my bed. My arms are prepped: my right hand has already expelled a blast-punch, the nimbus of eldritch energy from its discharge blending with the dark. My left hand force-buckler remains untouched, awaiting an impact.
I am panting for oxygen in preparation for battle, ready to lash out at anything that moves.
I extend my psi-tendrils out around me: I detect nothing sentient.
I breathe in through my nose and detect the scent of freshly pulverized plaster. I can hear the sound of small chunks of plaster still falling to the floor somewhere in the darkness. There are no scents of an unknown body.
Conclusion: there are no intruders present, so I retract my psi-tendrils back into myself. I realize- Night Terrors. Again.
As my eyes adjust to the ambient light of my bedroom I can see where I had blasted a rather large hole in the wall opposite me. I stare at it in dissatisfaction. It’s about a meter wide and half as deep- not a simple patching fix I am afraid.
‘Faex! The building superintendent will be mightily displeased with this.’
I look around the other walls and notice more holes more damage I had inflicted to my rented apartment. Such redecorations are expressly forbidden in my rental contract.
I am not one given to prevarication for explanations, but I may have to resort to it. This world in which I have lived in for the last 40 of its years, believes that magic is something that only exists in children’s stories. I cannot see my trying to explain to the building superintendent that I had inflicted magical damage to her beloved apartment building because of dream induced temper tantrums. Every night for the last six…NO! Seven nights now, I have awoken from a nightmare ready for battle. Judging by what is left of my apartment walls, my nightmares have been growing steadily more intense. More real to me.
I lower my arms to my sides and dispel the energies within myself. Doing so causes me to shudder involuntarily and raises my body temperature several degrees.
I feel ashamed by my loss of control. Luckily, no innocents were harmed by my actions.
My heart continues to beat a rapid tempo in my chest as if it is aware of an intruder that eludes my conscious awareness.
I feel an itch on the inside of my right forearm but I choose to ignore it as I find myself with a sense of confinement.
Confinement irritates me.
Quickly I bounce up from my bed and start pacing around my room. I can feel the shards of my shattered wall littering the floor underneath my bare feet, digging painfully into my soles.
I find the balcony door and fling it open.
Whereupon I feel the blessed cold air flow into my room and that is when I notice that I had been sweating heavily as the chill of the air surrounds me.
I do not normally sweat in my sleep, particularly in winter.
I step out onto my apartment’s balcony and take in the view in an effort to calm my nerves. The soles of my feet adhere momentarily to the cement floor outside as I step along.
17 stories up and all I can see are the lights of the city around me. I look up towards the central orbital tower of The Authority, I note the ever present time on display: 12:45, another 15 minutes till the mandatory citywide curfew.
As my eyes follow up the immense tower I feel a moment of vertigo, so I lay my hands upon the balcony railing to steady myself. The chill night’s air helps to calm me slightly.
Or is it because I am now free of that oppressive apartment?
I feel that the spaciousness of the outside air has given me a false sense of freedom, but I will accept it.
Breathing in I can detect the myriad scents of hundreds of thousands of individuals living, breathing, eating, excreting, and engaging in sexual intercourse of a hundred differing varieties. Many of which are deemed illegal by The Authority. There are so many lawbreakers, so many potential criminals, just waiting to be caught by the Law.
I look down over the railing in contemplation of the distance to the ground, and I get a sense of the final freedom if I just ‘let myself’ fall over. I know that sense is a lie. Because I have done it before, and the results were less than satisfactory.
Still, I have a sense of something terrible stalking me. I continue to scratch at the inside of my forearm at that persistent itching.
‘Damnation! I do not recall spilling anything irritating there.’
I have to nowhere else to go, so I close my eyes and force myself to meditate. I began my mantra of calmness as taught to me by an old wise one.
‘Fear is the path to suffering.’
‘Fear leads to Anger.’
‘Anger leads to Hate.’
‘Hate leads to Suffering.’
‘Accept your Fear.’
“Train yourself to let go of everything you Fear to lose.
Usually my mantra is enough for me to regain control in situations like this. Several iterations later there is no change in my agitation, so I relent. ‘I am missing something, but what?’
I notice then that despite my fingernails ministrations, my arm’s irritation has not been quelled. I return to my apartment to locate some topical analgesic located within my bathing room.
I realize then that the city lights have blinded me and that I can only see darkness within. This momentary sense of helplessness increases my agitation, as I keep expecting there is something within the darkness waiting for me to let down my guard.
I reach out in search of the room’s lighting control. After a brief fumbling, I manage to locate then activate it. I am answered by a soft click as the overhead light begins to illuminate, then suddenly it flares up like a flash bang grenade and I hear a sharp crack as it expends its last bit of life.
I scream loudly in fear as if I was attacked and I collapse to the carpeted floor.
I find myself curled up in a fetal position, quivering. I cannot think, only exist.
I have not felt this vulnerable since… since…; unbidden memories surge forward to my mind’s eye. “NO!” I shout. Those are the memories I would rather not face. Somehow, I manage to force them back down into the depths of my subconscious before they can overwhelm me.
This act of control marginally improves my mood.
I manage to push myself up to my feet and notice that my eyes have adjusted to the dimness of the room. Apparently in my fright I managed to not expel any more destruction upon what is left of my apartment’s walls.
In the light seeping in from my balcony door, I see a wooden photo-picture frame on my dresser: Odinne Elqenna. The sight of her smiling visage finally relaxes me for the first time this night.
Guiding myself by touch, I go over to my wardrobe shelf and I feel the warmth of pleasure as I pick up the picture frame. I recall the words she wrote in her last missive: <Tomorrow we are to meet and finally discuss those matters we agreed to set aside until our goals had been achieved.>
‘Why nothing less than the Worker’s Right’s Bill we had managed to convince this world’s legislative council to make into law only a couple of days ago.’ I say to myself, with no small sense of satisfaction.
‘Fifteen years we worked together and we have our victory! Who would’ve guessed that an erstwhile servitor of Chaos would be so willing to work on establishing a Law?’ I grin at the irony.
When I came to this world 40 years ago, I joined with the local forces of Chaos- to fight the oppression of The Authority, this world’s version of Law. Over time I rose to command my own team.
Eventually I met Odinne and her band of freedom fighters that she commanded. Her methods of fighting proved more effective than mine, so I threw in my lot with her. As a result we became far more successful together. Since she was a Natural Leader, I called her Commander and bowed my will to hers.
Though I often questioned her orders, I never undercut her authority. When someone complained about her decisions, I always found a way to back her up.
Then eight years ago, out of nowhere, she confessed her love for me.
‘I did not understand then how she could develop such an attraction for me, her subordinate.’ I contemplated silently. ‘But then, considering how this world treats their females, I guess that it should not have come as big a surprise.’
After my pointing out the vulnerabilities of being open about such a relationship, we came to the decision that we had best put aside such emotional entanglements until a time more conducive to such presented itself. Otherwise the Authority would have made much of such an emotional vulnerability in their ceaseless efforts to undermine her. As they have attempted to do so with me; a Male submitting to the authority of a Female? Unconscionable! One of the Authority’s main media spokesman questioned the quality of my manhood loudly and at length. I answered in the only way open to me: a duel. He chose a hired champion to fight for him, that one chose swords. He lost.
But that did not stop that blatherskite’s slander. He went on to denigrate my Commander; I could tolerate my own honor being questioned up to a point. But I could not, would not tolerate my Commander being denigrated in the least. So I challenged him again, and in the second duel he himself had to answer as none of the dueling mercenaries wished to replicate the fate of their predecessor.
That time he chose projectile weaponry. I confess I used magic then. All seven of his projectiles missed.
Whereas none of my projectiles missed my intended target, and as a result he would never reproduce again till the day he died.
‘It was an effective yet crude method of silencing our most ardent critic.’ I thought in retrospect.
I set her picture back onto my wardrobe dresser- atop the letter from her I had received yesterday. After reading it then, I was forced to conclude that her ardor for me had not diminished.
She stated quite clearly that once she had finally gained access to my apartments that she had no intention of leaving them for at least several days.
My mood improved still more while I pondered these memories as I ambled my way into my bathing room.
Within, I was able to turn on the lights without a nasty surprise and I quickly located the topical analgesic then spread a liberal amount onto my left hand. I then reached to apply it to my right forearm and froze at the sight of what was irritating me so:
My Covenant Mark.
A chill of fear sprang up my spine, my pulse quickened, and my world narrowed to a single spot in front of me- IT.
IT was itching. IT was that which I had been willfully ignoring. All the signs were there, but deep down I did not want to face the Truth.
As I closed my eyes I felt that doom sense start to overwhelm me, I felt unbidden tears well out of my eyes and run down my face.
A whispered “no.’ was all I could manage as my mouth went dry.
Somehow, somewhere in the depths of the Multiverse a true Lord of Chaos had gotten a hold of my Covenant Artifact- and was preparing to summon me back into thralldom.
Feeling utterly helpless at my grasp of the situation, I felt myself sliding to the floor of the bathing room, its cold tiles chilling my legs and buttocks.
I realized in shock that my extended Sojourn had come to an End. I did not know what the circumstances of the Chaos Lord who had a hold of my artifact was. But I did know that because of that Covenant I had signed with Chaos untold millenia ago, I would have to obey whatever they commanded of me.
A few minutes ago, I was afraid of hurting one or two innocents because of my lack of control. Now I was in mortal terror of how many more innocent lives would be extinguished because of the folly of my youth.
A long time ago a world died because of me.
I could not, would not countenance that occurring again. I, to my credit, had prevented such a repeat once. But it came at such a terrible cost to myself.
The memories I had suppressed previously this night, now surged akin to a tsunami, and I allowed myself to remember them in all their horrid glory.
“You cost me my Victory Human!” screamed Lord Orcus. I could see deep into his maw filled with dagger sharp teeth. Lord Orcus was the typical Chaos Demon- a giant humanoid, yellow irises with black eyes, skin redder than a sunburn, with a pair of matching oversized horns jutting from his head. He held me like a doll in his talons, his fingers crushing my throat. Globs of his acrid spittle kept spewing into my face as he screamed, his breath was beyond foul.
“You broke your oath with Law, and now you break your Covenant with Chaos? Damn you and your ‘ethics’ you worthless un-mortal!” he screamed at me in unrighteous indignation. I had been caught feeding information to his enemies: The Lords of Law. After he learned of my betrayal of him, he assumed that it had not been a one-time occurrence.
He was correct.
His suspicions were confirmed when he eventually managed to torture out of me every instance in which I undermined a Lord of Chaos. “Innocents die in War, you Fool!” he screamed at me, “It’s the cost of war no matter who instigates it, Law or Chaos! So, every time one of us demands that you do something evil, you get cold feet?’ Orcus’ voice turned quiet.
This sudden drop in volume scared me the most.
“Well, since your feet are prone to coldness; I shall keep them warm them for you!” he stated with a purr.
Unlike me, Orcus was good at keeping his word. He kept them warm in a box next to the crucible he used to heat the branding irons. Even now, millenia later I still cannot abide the stench of burning flesh.
I had to hand it to Orcus, he was most creative in his torture methods. I could tell he had the soul of an artist, it was probably stored in that pendant he had around his neck.
But I guess he had a lot of time on his hands since I denied him his Grand Victory over Law.
Eventually he tired of his sport with me, so he had his artisans craft a specially designed steam powered engine of torture that impressed even some of the older hench-demons. I became a part of a performance piece in that Demon Realm.
Weeks, months, years, I had no idea how long I was there under his ministrations. I was ripped apart countless times and then healed, over and over.
I would never have guessed that Demons could be so talented with healing spells.
Then my torture came to an end one day. A Hero of the Law of that world- The Order I think it was called, happened to stumble in.
Never had I been so happy to see a follower of the Law, before or since.
She made short work of the demons who had been continuing to work on me and then, for some unknown reason, she took pity on me.
She sheathed her swords and proceeded to unstrap me from the Engine, then she carefully set me upon the stained floor of the chamber stained with my juices.
I was lost in a fugue state from the sudden lack of pain until I returned to consciousness by the sweetest tasting water being slowly dripped into my mouth.
Grasping the arm that held that wonderful waterskin, I croaked at her, “Why? Why do you help me? Surely, you know I am cursed by Law for my crimes?”
“Why would I not help you?” she said, looking at me with a gentle smile. “You are the one who gave us the information we needed to defeat Orcus in battle. I came here to cleanse his den of evil. If I’d known you were here, I’d have made it my first destination.”
At that moment, there came the sound of something scraping the floor behind the engine. Both our heads turned at that uncharacteristic sound.
“What is that?” the Hero uttered, her smile gone.
Arising from me, she chased that something down behind the engine, then pulled it into the dungeon’s pallid light. It turned out to be a lesser succubus, her translucent wings flapping fitfully while she struggled mightily yet in vain to flee the Hero’s grasp.
As the Hero slowly managed to wrestle her captive to the floor, I somehow managed enough strength to rise and stumble over to see who she had caught, as I had my suspicions. By the time I had gotten there the Hero had her Great Knife out, ready to slice the Succubus’ throat.
“Hero!” I yell/croaked. “I beg you to forebear!”
Without turning her head, she demanded, “Why do you ask me this? Are you in league with this foul creature?”
The succubus’ eyes had locked with mine- pleading. Tears streamed down her face, her tail and wings limp.
“No Hero, there is no love lost between Demons and I. But this one, I recognize.”
For I did, between her strawberry red hair and fur, and her alabaster skin, I would recognize her from a kilometer away. And why would I recognize her?
I dared to put my hand upon the Hero’s shoulder and rasped, “When I begged for water, Hero. Orcus ordered that I be given vinegar. This one instead chose to give me water in defiance of he.”
The Hero turned to me and snarled, “She is demon!”
“Yes, but even for a demon she showed me kindness despite the risk to herself. If you truly wish to slay someone, then slay me instead.”
The Hero pursed her lips in thought. Finally, she screwed up her face and slapped my hand away as she stood up and away from the succubus. She then turned to me and spat, her eyes blazing into mine with hatred.
“Have at you then! Consider your debt repaid! But if I encounter either of you again, I will not stay my hand!”, she turned her back on us both then she stomped away out of the dungeon chamber in pursuit of other quarry.
As I watched her go, I noticed the succubus looking up at me with her lower lip quivering. She said in a quiet voice- “How may I repay you, my Lord?”
“I am no lord; Is there a Gateway nearby?” She nodded her tears still wetting her cheeks.
“Then help me to it, so that I may leave this world behind.” I had need of another world. I decided then to seek one of them out.
She arose from the ground in silence and helped me upright. Her fur tickled me, yet I chose to ignore it.
During the journey she just had me lean on her, supporting me in my weakness and eventually she led me to that Demon Realms’ Portal. All the while she looked as if she wished to say something more to me, yet she chose to keep silent. I still find it strange that we never encountered anyone or anything else on that long painful trek.
There, with her help, I was able to activate the portal. During the seconds it took to charge I asked her, “Succubus? I have one last favor to ask of you, before I go.”
Her face froze when she heard my request, then she turned her sad eyes up from the controls and faced me.
“Yes My Lord?”
“The Covenant Artifact of mine. Find it and hide it forever.”
“I promise, My Lord.” She nodded once closing her eyes.
I dragged myself to stand upon the platform when the Portal signaled its activation.
I could just barely stand as I turned and asked her in farewell, “The water. Why?”
Just then her sadness left her eyes and I could detect a hint of gratitude in her face as her eyes bore into mine.
“When you gave Orcus’ plans to Law, you saved my human kin.”
Then she activated the controls that sent me to another world.
After I recovered there, I ran.
I’ve been running ever since.
When my reverie ceased, I found my hands gripped into fists before me, they were charged with eldritch power- begging for release.
I wanted, no-NEEDED, to lash out! I don’t how long I’d been suppressing those memories; and so I tapped into this world’s latent magical energies, geo-mana with its taste of earth, aero-mana with its freshness, metal-mana with its tang, it didn’t matter what. Whatever was at hand I grasped at it and charged myself up onto a higher plateau of power that I had denied myself for so very long.
I found myself floating there in my bedroom inflamed with virginal mystical energies combining to an even higher peak until I couldn’t contain myself.
Then with a mighty ululation I screamed in outrage at what had been done to me. I screamed for what seemed like hours, but could only be seconds.
As I had built up to a level of power I’d not achieved since my last battle with a God; as I expelled the last of my breath-I released all of the mystic energy I had built up in a nova like non-conflagration out into my bedroom.
A mighty crack of thunder deafened me as my balcony wall and most of my bedroom was expelled out into the night’s air by my action. When I regained my sight I saw the building across the street had been heavily damaged as well.
‘Well, so much for my security deposit!’ I laughed.
I cried Tears;
Tears of Joy;
Tears of Relief;
Tears of Triumph.
I wished in that moment that I had had that level of magical ability when Orcus had confronted me. But then, so many other things would not have happened in the interim.
‘I would not have met Xiom.’ I thought to myself. My triumph quenched at that thought.
Xiom; the only woman I ever truly loved since my Cursing. Which made me realize what else I was about to lose.
I allowed myself to settle down upon the floor and noticed that somehow, my dresser was intact- untouched. Odinne’s picture frame still stood where I had placed it. Looking at her visage I then turned it face down so as to hide from her the shame of my loss of control.
I bent and opened the bottom drawer. Inside was my most prized possession. A silverish round metal shield a half-meter wide inscribed with the ancient symbol of Chaos. I just crouched there gazing at it.
It was then I heard a woman’s voice: “Annwyfn Arawn.” It came from nowhere, and everywhere. It was my full name that I had not used since I had fled that Demon’s Realm. The very name inscribed upon my Covenant Artifact.
That I could hear that voice meant only one thing- My Summoning had begun in earnest. And it filled what was left of my soul with despair.
With my senses at peak sensitivity, I could feel the fabric of space/time begin to curdle. The summoning always came with a gateway. I could not see it now, but it would be visible soon.
Off in the air outside my building, I could hear the alarms of emergency vehicles approaching- despite the curfew. ‘They will be paying a heavy price for that.’, I thought. Never mind the fact that someone’s life may be at stake, even Rescue personnel were required to follow curfew. But such is life in a world ruled by Law.
“Annwyfn Arawn”, the woman’s voice came again, louder. I could feel the authority of her voice. I surmised this was someone used to being obeyed. Yet I could feel something else there too, something I would never have associated with either a Demon or a Lord of Chaos: Sensuality.
‘My mind is more addled than I thought.’ I said to myself. Since when does any demon truck with sensuality?
“Annwyfn Arawn, I name thee for a third time. I Command thee to come forth from whatever nether world you’ve hidden yourself away in.”
“By whose Authority do you make these demands? Only a True Lord of Chaos can command me so!” I shout defiantly in return, with an air of assurance I am not sure I could have backed up.
She shouted in reply, “I am the Great Maou! Overlord of the Demon Realms of my world! It is by my Authority that I was able to access the Cryptex that held your Artifact Arawn!”
‘She can hear me!’ I thought, ‘Cryptex? What Cryptex?”
“Go away and bother me no more woman! My days of involuntary servitude are long past!” Would she be deceived?
“Arawn! If your servitude were at an end, then you’d not be able to hear me! COME FORTH NOW!”
‘Faex!’ she hadn’t bought it. With every one of her utterances her voice continued to raise in volume and intensity as her world approached mine in confluence.
I could feel the compulsion of her summoning building rapidly to an involuntary level. Looking over near the bathing room entrance I noticed a distortion in the space before it. It was that familiar malformation that presaged an opening from Here to There. Judging by its formation rate-I had only moments left in this world. A minute at best.
Resignedly I bent over and picked up my shield. It was cool to the touch, as it always was. Odinne had examined it once before and remarked upon it. She never touched it again after. Its chill always made me think of the chill between worlds. Why, I never could fathom.
I then placed it upon my back where it belonged. Just for a second another memory came unbidden to my mind’s eye- the feel of a small child upon my shoulders, her hands in my hair.
“NO!” I shouted in reply to that memory, attempting to dispel it. ‘That is just playing dirty!’ I said to my subconscious. ‘Do not dare you!’ There are some memories that should never be dredged up, that one especially.
“Defy me no more Arawn, I COMMAND YOU TO COME FORTH!”
And with that the gateway emerged, I felt myself being drawn by the winds that appeared when it opened, pushing me towards it. Oh, I could fight it all I wanted to but in the end I knew I would lose. Yet I fought it anyways just to spite; I smiled to myself then as I realized that this was the day that I had been preparing myself for, after all of those years ago since fleeing Orcus’ realm. That the millenia of learning magic and battle tactics I had devoted myself to, were about to pay off in ways that not even a Demon or any other Lord of Chaos could have imagined.
I looked one last time at my ruined domicile as I heard the sounds of feet pounding up the stairs to my apartment. Someone else was in for a surprise.
As I took a step towards the gateway, I noticed with sadness Odinne’s picture frame was still face down. I raised it upright, where it belonged. A tear betrayed me, as I realized then that she would never see me again, and never know why.
“Goodbye Odinne.” I whispered as I stepped into the gateway.