Requiem of Souls Chapter 5

Wounded Souls

By Artificer Urza

The sun was setting over the body of water known as the Outer Sea as Rand emerged from the water. He cradled an unconscious Katt in his arms. He had just spent nearly an hour looking for her in the water and now he needed to find a dry, safe place to tend to her. She only had a broken leg, granted it was broken in several places, but once mended, she would awaken soon. He looked inland and despaired at the sight of endless desert, neither flora nor apparent fauna on the landscape, which meant no means to make a fire or things to eat. Rand found a small outcropping of rock flat enough to serve as a sort of bed, and so, he gently placed Katt onto the stone. He looked at the sand beneath him and ran his hands through it; being a farmer he would be able to tell if there was any life at all in the earth.

"Unbelievable, it's… Dead. No life at all." Rand whispered, sorrow and despair in his voice.

He turned toward the beach and saw the lifeboats landing, the sailors exhausted from their flight from the ship. Rand continued to watch as Bow clambered out of the lead boat, soaked to the bone.

"How's Sten? Is he doing better?" Rand asked as Bow walked up to him.

"Sten is fine. You saved his life I think, healing him back there." Bow replied, observing the scenery.

"That's good at least. Hey, break up those boats! I'll need the wood to make a splint for Katt's leg." Rand shouted to the sailors.

"Right lad. And the rest of you bilge-rats; get to work on the rest of those boats. We'll need shelter and beds. Move-it, move-it." Captain Trask began to order his crew, organizing them into groups to make shelter and to fish for food.

"Where are Nina, Bleu, Jean and Ryu? Have you seen anyone else?" Rand asked as he prepared Katt's leg for the splint, trying to set the bone correctly.

"I saw a second group of boats, they had Nina, Bleu and Jean. But, they were heading in another direction, so I have no idea where they'll end up. As for Ryu…" At this point Bow just seemed to collapse, his strength and energy draining out of him. "I haven't seen Ryu since Katt went overboard. I think he may have been lost at sea."

Rand stopped all action and slowly turned to Bow, shock and disbelief evident on his face. Bow collapsed on a rock, tears pouring from his eyes, not believing that his best friend could be gone. Sten had been placed near Katt, but was still unconscious and thus, totally oblivious to the whole conversation. Rand started to shake and he clenched his fists as he remembered that he had seen out of the corner of his eye, Ryu struck by a falling mast. It did not seem likely that Ryu could have survived.

He can't be dead, not after all we have been through. His mind cried out. "Is this fate? That he should die after saving the world? Dammit, can't I protect those I care about? Am I so powerless?" He demanded as he pounded the rocks.

The sailors, distraught by this display, continued to work, despite their own feelings. Ryu had made many friends on this trip, as always, and the sailors mourned their loss and felt worse still for Katt, who had lost a friend, a lover and husband.

Did she know? A detached part of Bow's mind wondered. Is that why she doesn't wake up? A broken leg would not keep her knocked-out this long. He thought as he continued to mourn the loss of his friend.

Unknown to all on that beach, they were being watched and those silhouettes turned from their observations and walked to places only they knew where.

*******

Nina walked on a gray, misty landscape. She could not remember how long she had been walking and knew only that she had been here since she had lost consciousness on the ship. She could hear a harsh wind howling, but she could not feel it. For a brief moment she considered the possibility that she could be dead and she was walking through a way station for lost spirits. She calmly put two fingers on the vein in her forearm to test her pulse. Instead of feeling the continuous beat of her heart, she heard and felt her heart beat all around her. She quickly came to the conclusion that she was not dead, but in a sort of dream state. Now all that remained was to determine where she was so that she could return to the waking world. The mist, as though it were responding to her desire, parted revealing a city in the distance. Suddenly the city seemed to approach at an incredible speed until Nina was standing at the gate. The buildings were all destroyed, mere piles of rubble beside the roads, so she could not tell if this was a city to which she had been before. There were no people, no corpse, though she could here cries of agony and people crying. She saw in the distance the ruins of a castle atop a hill, surrounded by water that cascaded down the hill into the main city. With shock she recognized the city layout as that of Windia. She turned, examining her surroundings, seeing nothing but smoldering ruins, fearfully wondering what had happened to her beloved home. Was this the present, was Windia being destroyed now? Was she, in her coma state, being shown the future?

It's the past. A ghostly voice said.

Since it was the first voice she heard that had been directed at her, she was rather startled. She did not recall hearing about Windia being destroyed in history, except for the fall of Winlan, which occurred just before the rise of Windia.

Could this be Winlan? She wondered as she walked the streets.

A phantom moving among the rubble caught her eye, as it was the only other person, if you could indeed term it a person, besides herself. She followed the phantasm as it made its way to the castle. As she approached she noticed other ghosts among the ruins; mostly they were soldiers, all wounded in some horrible manner. The inflamed claw marks on their flesh were the proof that they had been fighting demons and from the few towers still standing and the destroyed city, they had not been victorious. More phantoms appeared, heading towards the castle. Nina believed that someone or something wanted to see an important event in Windia's or, more accurately, Winlan's history. The fall of Winlan, everyone had heard about it, but no one knew what had caused it, only that the city had been destroyed and that most of the citizens had been slaughtered.

Nina continued to follow the phantom villagers through the castle ruins until the came to what may have once been the audience hall. Like most other parts of the castle, the room was in ruins, the roof had been destroyed, two of the walls were almost taken down and tapestries had been torn to shreds. The only thing that appeared intact was the vacant throne in the back of the room. There was one person addressing the crowd, dressed in royal purple and gold robes and wearing a golden circlet, presumably the king of Winlan. Most curious was that, unlike other Windians, he had black wings. Shock and wonder openly displayed upon her face, she approached the speaker. She paid no attention to what he was saying or to the response of the crowd; she only wanted to see that there was another with black wings. As she got a better look at his wings she discovered that not only were the feathers of his wings black, but they were scaled as well. She didn't have time to ponder this difference as someone in the crowd spoke, distracting he from that puzzling enigma.

"It's your fault this happened!" One of them shouted.

"Yeah! If Queen Nina was still alive this would never have happened!" Yelled another.

"The king should never have allowed an inter-clan marriage. If he hadn't we would never have been cursed with a half-breed as a ruler."

"His wings are a symbol of his mixed blood, that's why Suzaku, the bird god has forsaken us! It's the Curse of the Black Wings!"

The cry of 'Black Wing Curse' was taken up by the mob; the only reaction of king of Winlan was to stiffen slightly at the insult. Nina watched the man who had first used the words 'Curse of the Black Wings', he was smiling malevolently and there was a peculiar glimmer in that man's eyes. Nina had seen eyes like that once before in the fanatical Habaruku, the head priest of the St-Evans religion.

"Is this what you truly believe? That I am the cause of the destruction of my beloved Winlan?" The king asked sorrowfully. To Nina he looked very familiar as she studied his face.

The crowd shouted and yelled, many raising their fists in anger. They were calling for his resignation and there were a few cries for his head as well as his crown. The king shook his head sadly and he slowly removed the golden circlet from his head.

"Is this what you truly want?" The king asked again. The mob roared again demanding he abdicate the throne. "So be it! I, king Liam, first of that name, herby abdicate the throne." So saying, he thru his circlet on to the rubble whereupon it shattered, signifying the end of his reign. "The Kingdom of Winlan is no more." He said to the crowd before he left the room.

Nina watched the crowd leave the destroyed palace, shocked at everything she had heard. This is where the Curse of the Black Wings had started, the product of a superstitious people who needed a scapegoat for this destruction. She sympathized with the king, whom was now going to feel the same enmity and fear that she had during her young life. As she thought upon the king, the landscape blurred and changed. She found herself in a guest-room in one of the remaining towers. It was well furnished, having a comfortable bed, a writing desk and several paintings on the walls. One piece in particular had caught her eye: a painting of a wedding. Two people before an altar, one she recognized as Queen Nina, with her white wings magnificent wedding dress and coronet. The other seemed to be a knight, for he was dressed in resplendent platinum armor. What was most odd about him was that he had blue hair and his face bore a great resemblance to Ryu. Perhaps this was the man from another clan that Queen Nina had told her about? Her musings were interrupted by the sudden appearance of King Liam, who had changed into traveler's clothes, and three others. One was an old man with a scholarly look about him, there was a young woman dressed in a fine white dress.

Must have been the queen at the time. Nina thought.

In the queen's arms, she held a young girl, no more than four years of age. The girl was intently watching king Liam who was in deep conversation with the old man.

"Are you sure it's going to work Maechen?" The king asked of the old man.

"I am sure of nothing sire, removing the draconic elements from her blood… It has never been done before, my lord." Maechen replied carefully.

"I just don't want any of my family to be persecuted because they are related to me. And you can't call me 'sire' or 'your majesty' anymore." King Liam said as he turned to his wife and child.

"Alright then, Liam. The potion I gave her will prevent the black wings from showing up in her bloodline again, at least, I am almost positive of it."

"And you, beloved, what will you do?" The queen asked Liam.

"I'll look for my father I suppose." He said as he took his daughter in his arms.

"Are you going away, daddy?" The little girl asked.

"Yes, but I want you to be strong while I'm gone, okay? I want you to promise me something: I want you to promise me you'll help rebuild Winlan, you are this country's future." He said as he handed the girl over to Maechen.

The child fought back tears as she watched her father and mother walk up the stairs of the tower. Nina proceeded to follow them. This was perhaps the tallest tower, one that remained in the construction of the Windian castle. At the top Nina merely watched the two as they held each other. Liam then proceeded to walk up to the edge of the tower and, turning his back to the edge, he smiled at his wife. Nina then knew why he looked so familiar: he looked just like Ryu. Liam then took a step backwards, falling from the tower. Nina rushed to the edge, though there was nothing she could do. She watched in horror as Liam plummeted to the ground when, suddenly, his fall halted. Liam became engulfed in electricity and with a great explosion his form changed. He became a great serpentine dragon with feathered wings and he was easily as long as the tower was tall. The citizens, who had not seen the transformation, marveled at the sight and Nina laughed to herself to see the man they hated and feared was the future guardian of Windia, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, who's likeness was carved into the arch above Windia's castle gate.

As she laughed the landscape grew blurry and was eventually engulfed in darkness. Nina groggily opened her eyes, waking from a dream. She looked at her surroundings from her position on the floor. It was a non-descript tent, beige in color and no decoration. As with most Windians during their time of rest, her wings were wrapped around her like a protective cocoon. Someone had taken the liberty of covering her in a blanket and as she lifted it from herself she felt the cold crisp air on her skin. Pausing for a brief moment, she could here voices outside the tent, or rather one voice and Bleu laughing at something the other was saying.

"… So Karn carefully opened the vault while Bo and I stood at the ready, just in case the trap was a magical one. When we entered the room, we were all in for one hell of a shock. What do you think we found?" Said a male voice.

"Come on don't leave me in suspense! What did you find?" Bleu asked eagerly.

"The walls were staked with jars filled with… Eye-goo gel. Apparently it had been quite valuable at one point." The other said as Bleu burst out laughing.

At that point Nina stepped out of the tent. It was night and Bleu and her companion were sitting by a fire. The landscape was a desert with pure white sand, but a forest could be seen not far from where they were. She looked at Bleu's companion and recognized him as the Wanderer who had visited the castle at Windia.

"Hmmm? Oh glad to see you're awake Nina." The Wanderer said; Nina also recognized him as the man she had seen in the painting in her dream.

*******

Traveling to the factory town Kombinat was always difficult for the Urkans due to the fact that their city was surrounded on all sides by mountains. However, there was a small trail through the mountains, through which they could lead their caravans. It was a narrow path between the mountains and the ocean, in truth a rather dangerous route because there was a point one couldn't see where the ocean floor would drop and straying to far into the water could cause the loss of an entire caravan. Because of this the path was narrow and few dared to venture off into the water. It was this very path which was being obstructed by a lone figure, the lead wagon driver, of an Urkan caravan who came upon the figure brought his caravan to a halt, got off the wagon and approached the figure.

"Sir? Is there something wrong? If you could move, sir, or you could come with us. We would be happy to bring you wherever you need to go, but you must move, sir." The wagon driver said as he cautiously approached the figure.

The figure spread his arms suddenly, startling the wagon driver, and shouted as though he were an actor in a theater.

"Friends, Urkans, countrymen; lend me your ears…" The figure shouted. "Because quite frankly, mine are no longer what they used to be, fuhuhuhuhu."

The figure the reached up to the side of his head and removed something and tossed it to the ground. It did appear to be a decaying ear. Taken aback, the wagon driver slowly began to move away, but was interrupted by the figure.

"You wish to pass by this area? Fine, just so long as you can answer my riddle, but you must come closer." The figure motioned for the wagon driver to come closer.

The wagon driver approached cautiously, fervently praying to the Goddess that this person would go away after he answered the riddle. When he was within a few feet, he could smell decay upon the figure.

"Good, good fuhuhuhu. Here is my riddle: what is dead and dead and dead all over?"

A death chill creeping up his spine, the wagon driver slowly backed away, but was not fast enough. The figure's arm shot out with the speed of a striking cobra, grabbed the wagon driver by the neck and effortlessly lifted him off the ground.

"YOOOOUUUUUUU!!!" The figure laughed, crushing the wagon driver's throat. "Hihihahahahaha, it appears that while your amulet protects you from my corruption, Urkan, it does not protect you from a more direct assault, hehehehahahaha."

The wagon driver's head lulled to one side, blood drooling from his mouth, after his neck was crushed. The figure casually tossed him against the mountain wall. The figure noticed his hand was drenched in the sweat of the wagon driver. He heard a small scream and saw that a frightened female wagon driver had exited the wagon, her eyes brimming with tears. He looked at the corpse of the wagon driver, at his hand and at the woman and began to laugh.

"Blood, sweat and tears, huhuhuhuhu. It has been eons since I last felt this alive, which is ironic since I'm not, fufuhuhuhuhuhaha." He laughed maniacally as he walked towards the woman.

"That is far more than enough!" A deep voice said from within the wagon.

From the wagon emerged the heavily muscled, black as coal skinned, gargoyle-like guardian called Gatz. With a single leap, he jumped over the woman and landed in front of the figure, who didn't even flinch at the guardian's display.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Gatz demanded of the figure.

"Who am I? Oh, the shame of it, did not Myria tell you about the mighty Shax? Well, I suppose she could never have expected to see me again. As to what I want… I'm looking for a golden key with this symbol on it." The figure said as he drew the symbol for 'sky' in the sand.

"You are an enemy of the Goddess?" Gatz asked. As he did so he summoned his two axes with a burst of flame. One of his hand axes was so large that it would take a normal man two hands two lift and yet he carried his with ease needing only one hand for each ax.

"In truth my master views your mistress in somewhat less than glowing terms." Shax said, not rising from his drawing.

Gatz merely nodded and, without warning, brought his axes down upon Shax. Gatz's axes would have sliced easily though Shax, save that he was no longer there. Hearing a scream behind him, Gatz turned to witness a ghastly sight: Shax was standing behind the woman and her by the neck with his right hand, with his left he had pierced her body through the left part of her chest. His hand was sticking out of her chest, blood dripping from his arm, and he held her heart in his hand.

"Be still thy beating heart!" Shax said as he removed his hand, still holding the heart, from the woman's body. "It wasn't very sporting of you to try and kill me like that." He continued as he thru the corpse and the heart over to where the male wagon driver's corpse lay.

"You monster!" Gatz yelled as he leapt towards Shax, slicing, again, through nothing but air.

"Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?" Shax demanded from his perch on a precipice on the mountain. "Naughty, naughty guardian! I shall have to punish you heheheheh!" He said, sounding like a father scolding a child.

Suddenly, Shax went stiff as a board, his head cocked to one side as though listening to some unseen person.

"It appears I shall have to take my leave of you for the moment. And don't worry I shall clean up after my mess." Shax said as he vanished into the night air.

Suddenly the earth shook and from it's depths, two creon, armored ant-like creatures, burrowed their way to the surface dragging the two corpses back into the dark earth, leaving Gatz alone with the caravan, its inhabitants still sleeping despite the commotion. Gatz began to pray that he could not strike Shax because he was not used to his guardian body yet and not because Shax was stronger than him.


Chapter 6

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