I had been in the Highlands of Chaos for months and months. After spending time, albeit involuntarily, in the Kingdom of Acheron with Warmaster Zeldrine Cold, which was quite an experience I was finally moving on to travel towards the Kingdom of Koryan. It would take some time to get from where I was to where I was headed, really more days than I wanted to think about it that point.
It was here in the Highlands of Chaos that I continued to search for an answer to save my sister. I was slowly finding that no matter how long I searched, no matter where I went and no matter how many books I read there would not be a way to save her. Could I even save myself at this point? You see the more time I spent in the Highlands of Chaos the darker it got, the darker I got. The light was slowly fading from my heart and my soul. The longer I was here, the harder it was to remain true to Ethnessa, true to Order and true to myself. I needed to get home. I needed to get out of this place, but I couldn’t give up on my sister.
It has been at least four days since I left Zeldrine and the Kingdom of Acheron. One of the many things I learned from the blue-eyed ork, was that as an outsider, as a worshiper of the light, and of order I was not going to be welcome in many places outside of the capitol. He also made me aware that as a woman travelling alone, I made an easy target. He, while aware of my arcane magicks, knew that there were things in the vastness of the Highlands that could destroy me before I even had the chance to call forth my hooved protectors. It was, for this reason, I made few stops in towns, and when I did, I pulled my hoods as far over my face as I could. Stopping only for supplies and not staying.
I have stopped for the night in the capital city of the Kingdom of Shannara, well outside of it at any rate. After everything that happened in Acheron, I trusted my wards more than any man-made lock. After setting up camp, feeding Hestr and Hrafn, and eating my own dinner I painstakingly reviewed all of the notes, all of the writings, and every small scrape of information I had found on the gods of Chaos, their magics, their afflictions, their interactions with each other and with humans.
I paced back and forth inside the wards I had set, reading and thinking, growing more and more frustrated as the night progressed. If it was not or the fact I was hidden behind my wards, anyone passing by would have assumed I was insane, and maybe I was. After hours passed with nothing in the information coming together to make any real sense I threw my scrolls to the ground, and screamed into the void…
“WHY CAN’T I FIX THIS!”
Hestr trotted over and lay her head on my right shoulder, while Hrafn flew down from the branch he was resting upon and perched on my left shoulder preening the ends of my hair. They were used to these outbursts, as they had been happening more and more often as I transversed this forsaken place. I turned and shoved my face into the long auburn mane of my trusted equine companion as tears started rolling down my face, “I made a promise to you little sister. I said I would fix this, that I would save you and bring you home. That we would be okay. I’ve tried Static, I promise I have, I am so sorry little sister.”
It could have been hours, it could have been minutes, it could have been seconds but eventually, I heard a voice and not necessarily a welcome one.
“Master Dameon.” I muttered flatly, “Are you here to tell me I told you so?”
“Sit.” he motioned to the space across from him.
I sighed and slumped down across from the former Master, turned Plaugebearer.
“What good, would, “I told you so” be now Orderling? I was right, you know I was. You know I am. There is no need to tell you what you already know and understand.”
I didn’t respond to that.
“Do you remember when I told you that I had brothers once.”
“Yes. I do. You said you wish they felt the same way I do toward Static. That they loved you no matter if you were enemies or not as I do her.”
“Yes. What I didn’t tell you, and what you likely worked out on your own, is that they are the same ones who abandoned you and Static in your time of need.”
I finally raised her head to look up at him, “Master Dac, ” which I spat out like poison, “and Master Ixous, who if you do not already know is alive again. Don’t ask me how I do not understand. I worked it out yes. I worked out who your brothers were, or are.”
“You are smarter than I gave you credit for, Orderling. Your love, it keeps the light alive in your sister, in you.”
“You say that like it is a good thing? I would figure you would want her light completely gone.”
“Even I have some light in me. You can see it if you look hard enough.”
I took a moment and looked at him, closer than I ever had before. The copper glow was so faint that it was almost impossible to see, but it was there at his core. She blinked and for a moment she could see the purple-haired, exhausted figure of Master Xerses.
“She is alive. She is safe. She is not coming back, but if you keep whispering to the winds that you love her, her light will stay.” I heard the softer voice of Xerses whisper as if it was voices on the wind.
“I will not come to you again Moosewitch. This is where her path and your path part. Never forget what you have learned.”
The swirling darkness that accompanied Daemon wherever he went started moving around her. It opened almost like a portal where she could see Static, she could see Tonks, she could see Xyston, Drago, D’nok, and Archive.
“You could come with me.” He said,
“I do not belong there.” her heart was torn into pieces as she said the words
He nodded. “No you do not, but I would be remiss if I did not allow you the choice your so-called Masters denied you. You will find home again, Moosewitch, but know your magics has piqued the interest of the God of Change. He will not let go of you as easily as Nurgle has…”
“Will, will you tell her that I love her? That I will never stop?”
“Yes. Goodbye Antoinette.” Dameon had never said my name before.
“Goodbye Master Dameon,” I spoke, standing lowering my hood as a sign of respect for the fallen Master. “Your brothers may not be here in the light, but I will not allow the future to forget that there must be light for there to be dark, and there must be dark for there to be light. That there must be order for there to be chaos and that there must be chaos for there to be order. I will not let them forget you and I will not forget you.”
It was then that the darkness around him started to turn to light and I watched the figure of him faded from my vision, I knew that there was nothing left for me to do. For so long my life had had this one driving purpose and now, nothing. She had been saved in a way if what I was told was true. I had no reason to not believe him. He had, to my knowledge, never actually lied to me in this whole ordeal, unlike many others had lied about him. I would never know if she was really as safe as he said. I had to trust him that she was, as hard as that would be. We were miles and miles apart, and honestly, we had been since the day she fled the halls of our shared home. A home I longed to return to, even if it meant living out the remaining days I had in an empty monastery.
Before I went to bed that night, I held the locket that I had commissioned months prior to my heart. The locket held a small painting one of Static. “Little Star, my sister. I love you. I will always love you. I am so sorry…”. I drifted off into an uneasy sleep that night, knowing that when I woke, I would for the first time not know what was driving my travels.
I stayed in that encampment for at least a week. I normally never stayed anywhere that long. I spent most of the days in prayer to Ethnessa and Odin. I had no desire to pack up, I had no desire to move on and because of my lack of will and the horrible sleep I had been getting my powers seemed to be waning. This caused my wards to falter, a falter that took nearly everything I had to bring them back up.
The day after I had repowered my wards I sat in prayer to Ethnessa once again. I had travelled with a shrine to my goddess across the lands, it was all that was keeping me grounded to the light. I had lit the special candles that burned a copper light and started to speak.
“Ethnessa, I have failed you. I have nothing to offer for my failure. I have no words that can make up for my inability to save our little star. Where do I go now? What should I do? What is next for me? Is the light to go from this world? Please guide me, please give me some sign, something…” I trailed off as something rocked against my wards.
“We know something is hiding behind this! Break it down!” the male voice spoke.
I got up off my knees and dusted off the travelling leathers I had on. I smirked as I twisted the ever-present silver cuff on my left wrist and heard the crack of the planes parting. It was then that I felt a calm I had not felt in ages, she was there with me, my lady. I was sure of it. I asked for her aid and she came. I could feel the fire within me surge in ways it had not in the days I had been here in this forest.
A soft whistle sounded and a black streak came diving down from a tree branch far above. “Hrafn, fly. Keep watch but from a safe distance. If the worst should happen, take the book home to the monastery halls and find Adakan, he will understand.”
Hrafn took off as the thunderous sound of hooves made landfall.
“WHAT THE HELL!” another male voice exclaimed. My avatar had shifted into existence.
I pressed out the wards so that I could see the outline of them, there were 6 of them visible to me. They could still not see me.
“Ní bheidh tú ag dul trí na bardaí seo. Tá siad déanta as draíocht stua. Sruthfaidh tú sula bhfaigheann tú chugam.” I drawled in Celtic, as I made to put on my armor, activating each rune carved into the leather as I went. (Translation: You won’t get through these wards. They are made from arcane magic. You will burn before you get to me)
“Mar sin is bardaí iad seo ná mar a bhí? Tá draíocht stua agat. An cailleach nó draoi thú? Cén fáth a bhfuil tú anseo? Cad ba mhaith leat?An ligfidh tú dúinn?” one of the answered back. (Translation: So these are wards than yes? You wield arcane magic. Are you witch or wizard? Why are you here? What do you want? Will you let us through?)
“Why would I let you in? These wards are to keep me safe.”
“Beta! Stop! That is a women’s voice.” spoke a man with a velvet-smooth voice.
“You can hear us can’t you?” asked another of them, this one with a rather booming voice, deep and strong.
“Yes.” I said simply. “I can see you as well. You just cannot see me.”
“If we put down our weapons will you call off this creature?” The one with the booming voice asked.
“No, I cannot simply tell him to leave or send him away. He is brought forth to me by plane shifting arcane magiks. I can ask him to stand down, but he will not go until he feels like it.”
“Put down your weapons brothers.” the smooth-voiced one said.
“Seriously?” the one I assumed was called Beta asked
“We are outclassed Beta. She has more magik than I do. There is nothing I can do against her wards, or her creature. If you want to burn to death, you can continue to beat at a wall you cannot see made of what I can only assume is similar arcane flames when provoked.” this was the same voice that had replied to me in Celtic, a soft, intelligent voice.
I smiled, so at least their magik user was smart enough to not burn to death. It was then Hestr huffed and stamped her hooves to get my attention. I spun on my heels to see a figure poised to attack the wards from behind.
“Just walk into it. I dare you little one. See what happens.” I said to the 7th figure, smaller than most of the others, as he was attempting to attack the wards from behind.
“NICKEL!” the smooth-voiced one yelled.
Nickel, that was a name I had heard before. He had come up in my research into the denizens of the Plaguebearer, Dameon. He was a member of the legion under the command of General Ugar, the Prince of Stench. The Prince of Stench was one of the Plaguebearers protegees. Nickel was a protegee of the Prince of Stench.
“Ah, this one I know. You are one of the protegees of the Prince of Stench. I would happily send him your ashes, young one.” I intoned flatly.
“How the hell do you know who I am?” Nickel both exclaimed and asked as he backed away.
“Your mentor, Ugar, otherwise known as the Prince of Stench, is a General in the armies of the Plaugebearer, Dameon. I have spent many days researching Dameon, and his army.
It was then that I lessened the wards a little more so that I could more clearly see these men, yet they still could not see me. As I did so, I watched Nickel make his way back to the others and the smooth-voiced one removed the hood that covered his face. With the shadow of the hood no longer cast across his face, I was faced with one of the most attractive men I had ever seen, if not the most attractive man I had ever seen. His ebony locks were full, thick and well maintained. His eyes seemed to glint in the sunlight and his skin had not a blemish upon it. His body appeared to be as if chiselled from stone, each muscle perfectly formed. If you were to go and try and describe the perfect specimen of a man, it would be this man.
“My name is Gaston, m’lady. This” he indicated with a sweep of his hand to the one with the ginger hair, who wore similar attire to the Celtic ones I had met. I recall they call it kilt. His beard was a work of pure manliness, clear care went into maintaining it as it did not have one single hair out of place. “Is Buliwyf, the Morrigan Wytch”
Gaston went on to introduce the large armoured warrior who had yet to drop his sword. With a shove, he said, “This is my friend, Beta.” The warrior shrugged.
Another stepped forward and spoke. “I am Skald.” It was the one with the booming, deep voice.
“Vel hitt, Skald. Megi Óðinn geyma þig alla daga þína.” I smiled, home in my native tongue. (Translation: Well met, Skald. May Odin keep you for all your days.)
“Was that even Common?” Nickel asked.
“No.” Skald replied flatly. “It was the language of my people. You have heard me speak it before.”
I paced back and forth behind the wards. There were two yet to speak. Before I could ask them to introduce themselves, Gaston spoke again.
“We are the Juggernauts.”
I figured he assumed that was supposed to mean something to me. It did not. However, I might as well introduce myself to them.
“I am the Moosewitch known as Antoinette.”
“It is somewhat impolite to talk through walls, albeit invisible ones. Especially ones so close to our home,” the larger of the two yet to be introduced spoke, very calmly.
“It is exceedingly impolite to attack walls when you do not know what is behind them,” I countered.
“She makes a point.” the other the yet to be introduced voices said, “She is being rather reasonable, we are not.”
“Lons, always the scholarly one,” the calm one spoke.
“So, Antoinette, will you bring these walls down so that we may make formal introductions?” Buliwyf asked.
I sighed and looked to my ever faithful travel companion. Hestr just looked back at me.
“Some help you are,” I mumbled.
“In order to bring them down, I am going to need you all to step back at least ten feet.” They didn’t move. “ No, I am serious. If you want these to come down you are going to need to move.
They moved back, although Beta was eyeing where the wards were like something might jump out and attack him.
I turned and there was Nickel, instead of moving back he had moved closer. “Young one, if you do not move, you will find yourself rather crispy on more than just your edges.”
The calm one grabbed Nickel by the neck of his leather armour and pulled him back towards the rest of them.
“You can let go of me now.” Nickel huffed.
That one is the parental one of the group, clearly, I thought to myself as I chuckled.
“I mean, as I said earlier, I have no problems sending his mentor his ashes.”
I knelt down beside the main ward stone and placing my hands on it pulled the power back out of it. As I did so, bright white flames pulsed out from where the ward lines were. As the flames dissipated, I came into full view of the Juggernauts.
I was dressed fully in leather at this point. As we talked I had been preparing for a fight.
I had on my deep brown leather travelling skirt and vest over top of a copper linen dress with sleeves that went from shoulder to wrist. Both the leather skirt and dress had slits up the sides to accommodate riding. Over the top of that was my armour. My purity seals fluttered gently in the breeze and the runes etched into the gorget glowed with flames. I was adorned with the armour D’nok had made me from my shoulders to my wrist, and from my waist to my ankles. My dark ginger hair was pulled back in an intricate braided pattern and adorned with beads and feathers. My flames wicked around my feet and hands as I moved.
“We were scared of this?” Beta asked when he finally saw me. I was clearly not a threat in his eyes.
“Well I mean there was a giant flaming creature between us and her. Also, what do you not understand about the fact she wields arcane fire?” the calm one said in reply
“It is called a moose,” I said, I didn’t like when people called my avatar a creature.
“Well then, a giant flaming moose, was about to trample us. So I would say yes, it was reasonable to be scared of her.” the calm one continued.
“Thank you for the commentary, Biggs” Gaston rolled his eyes.
All right so they all had names now.
Gaston, the smooth-voiced, exceedingly attractive one, who seemed to be the leader of the small group of men.
Skald, the one with the deep booming voice, with whom I shared a cultural connection.
Nickel, the young impulsive one. The protegee of the Prince of Stench.
Beta, the warrior, full of anger and rage. Hesitant to stand down around an unknown threat.
Buliwyf, their magik user. The soft-spoken, ginger-haired one.
Lons, the reasonable, scholarly one.
Biggs, the calm, protective, seemingly parental one.
“You do realize you are one fire right?” Nickel asked me as I moved to walk toward them.
“Really?” I smirked as I tossed a ball of flames back and forth between my hands, leaving fiery footprints as I walked, “I had not noticed.”
“They are a part of her Nickel.” Buliwyf deadpanned. “They cannot hurt her.”
My moose had been standing off to the side, watching them carefully. He was behind me now, I could feel him nudge me with his nose. I turned and ran my hands down his face as if he was just another horse. He huffed as if to say, I am a great beast of devastation, not a simple horse. I shrugged at him and turned only to see them jump as the crack of the planes parting echoed across the lands and my moose vanished from sight.
I continued to walk towards them, my flames flickering and vanishing from the ground as if they were never even there. As I reached Gaston, I pulled all of my flames back to me and they dissipated. I stood in front of him, well within striking range. I could hear shuffling from behind, which I could only assume was Beta, uneasy that I was this close to his friend.
“Any reason that you all had to attack my wards?”
“You are about a mile out from the gate of our home. Most people who are not already Juggernauts don’t often make it this far up our path.” Biggs answered.
“And you have been here for about a week. We rather assumed you were an army of red birds.” Gaston said
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You were worried I was an army of Elite Bloodfalcons? Well, I am not an army of Elite Bloodfalcons, but I know where I can find one if you would like one.”
None of the said anything and Beta paced uncomfortably back and forth behind Gaston.
“I was also not on my way to your home.”
They remained silent. I cursed under my breath.
“I assume you would like to know where I was headed?”
“Koryan and the Grand Library of the Highlands of Chaos, then on to Latnemir and then hopefully home to Loderia.”
“What are you seeking at the Grand Library?” Buliwfy asked.
“To continue my…” I paused, turning my head away from them to blink away the tears threatening to fall “research into combatting or preventing Nurgle Rot.”
They all looked at each other, Beta whispered something I couldn’t hear to Skald, and Lons patted Buliwfy on the shoulder, while Biggs gave Nickel a rather stern glare.
“Let me guess,” Gaston started a bit hesitantly, “Someone close to you fell to the Great Plague?”
I nodded, “My little sister.”
“Well, I am sure you have heard this, but there is no known way to cure or prevent that specific ailment, human or demonic,” Buliwyf said gently as if he was worried I would shatter into a million pieces upon hearing his statement.
“That is nothing I have not heard or read. I refuse to believe that no one has ever been cured of the rot before.”
As if completely ignoring my comment, Gaston spoke up “Well, the wilds are no place for a lady. Why do you not come home with us for the evening? Much safer indeed.”
I stifled a laugh. “Beleg, ho na- er -o tuin kind -o núr” (Translation: Great, he is one of those kinds of people.)
I watched as Nickel turned to look at Skald.
“That was not my language.” Skald mumbled.
“No it was Sindarin, the language of the elves,” I said. “Not that the language I was speaking is really of all that much importance. Thank you for your offer, but I am fully able to take care of myself. I don’t need protection from any man.”
“But women do not belong in the wilds.” Gaston countered.
I sighed and turned to talk to Lons, “Is he always like this?”
“Unfortunately, yes. However, you are more than welcome to our home for the night, but we would understand should you not wish to join us.”
“I need to finish this research and head home. The darkness and chaos here are eating at my soul.”
“We do not wish to stop you, but this effort will be in vain. The answers you seek do not exist. I wish I could tell you that they did” Buliwyf spoke again.
“How would you know!” I snapped.
“We are followers of the gods of chaos. We have lost to the great plague. It takes without care. There is nothing that can be done.” Skald said solemnly.
“Grieve your sister, as if she is dead. She is lost to you Neophyte.” Dameon’s voice echoed in my head.
“You think I don’t know that.” I snarled at the voice in my head, flames started to swirl around my feet.
“Um, Antoinette, are you all right. We didn’t mean to upset you. “ Lons spoke as he backed away.
I looked up, I had said that out loud. I took a breath, calmed the flames, and muttered, “Sorry, that was not directed at you. I was recalling an encounter with someone much less kind about all of this than you are all being.”
They nodded. I am not sure if they believed me or not, but Lons spoke again before I had time to dwell on it.
“We do very much understand how you are feeling. It is never easy to lose someone to the Great Plague. They are alive, but they are not the same as you remember them. They are essentially a completely different being.”
It was almost like Gaston did not even notice there was a conversation happening as he spoke again completely changing the subject.
“Well and good. So you are coming home with us then.”
“You are very sure of that. As polite as you have all been since you ceased pounding on my wards with your weapons. I have known you for less than an hour.”
“Ég veit að þú hikar við að koma með okkur vitandi að ekki aðeins erum við fylgjendur guðs óreiðunnar, heldur vegna þess að þú hefur þekkt okkur í svo stuttan tíma. Ég gef þér heim minn, um Allan föðurinn, að þú munt vera öruggur og þú getur farið hvenær sem er. Við meinum þér engan skaða, við vitum bara þann toll sem rannsóknir þínar hljóta að hafa haft á þig.” Skals stepped forward, gently placing his hand on my shoulder. (Translation: know that you are hesitant to come with us knowing that not only are we followers of the gods of chaos, but because you have known us for such a short time. I give you my world, on the All-Father, that you will be safe, and you can leave at any time. We mean you no harm, we just know the toll your research must have taken on you.)
I sighed. Did the idea of an actual bed sound appealing? Yes. Did the idea of a decent meal sound appealing? Yes. I sighed again. I looked over to the shrine to my Goddess that was sitting where I had left it. The special candle had been burning this whole time, but it had not lost a bit of wax. Its copper light shining in the darkness. I turned back to them, behind them each the copper light glowed. I had asked for a sign from her, I asked her where to go next and she was showing me.
“Allt í lagi. Ég mun koma með þér. Ég veit ekki hvert ljós mitt mun leiðbeina mér net, en í bili er það ljóst að ég fer með þér. Ertu með hesthús?” (Translation: Alright. I will come with you. I don’t know where my light will guide me next, but for now, it’s clear I am to go with you. You have stables?)
“Við gerum. Vel verður séð um hestinn þinn og mjög þægilegur. Við erum líka með nýliði. Ég sá hrafninn fljúga. Hann er þinn já?” Skald answered. (Translation: We do. Your horse will be well taken care of and very comfortable. We also have a rookery. I saw the raven fly. He is yours yes)
“Hann er. Hann er boðberi mín vegna persónulegra verkefna og til og frá Allra föður.” I whistled and Hrafn landed neatly on my shoulders. (Translation: He is. He is my messenger both for personal missives and to and from the All-Father.)
With that, the time for words was over. I turned and started to pack up my camp. They offered to help, but I had become so accustomed to being alone that it ended up being more frustrating for me than helpful, so eventually they stood to the side as I loaded up my cart, tied everything down, double-checked the area for anything I might have missed.
As I did that, I found a small scrap of paper, with familiar writing on it.
I know you have travelled far looking for answers. I know that you will spend the rest of your days doing so. So hear me, you may stop your searching for I promise you that I am alive, I am well. Do not ask how I do not understand. Even though I am well, we cannot be together because it is unsafe for you here. Know that I know you love me, and will always love me. Know that I will always love you. We are not the same as we used to be, but “That does not mean I will love her any less than I do now, or ever have. So long as I live and she lives, she will be my sister, even if she is my enemy.”
That’s what you told him, that day so many years ago now. May it always be.
I folded the scrap, opened my locket, placed it inside and snapped the locket shut. I wiped the tears from my eyes and turned to the awaiting group of men.
Taking hold of Hestr’s reigns I said, “Shall we?”
They nodded and turned to the north and started to walk.
When we finally came upon their home, a great keep made of jet black volcanic rock, I could still see the copper light encircling them all. As they opened the great gates, I whispered to myself… “An end and a beginning.”