What has come before: Intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

~~~ Meine, Priest of Isonia ~~~

Syraph Keep , Late Afternoon

My heart beats dully in my chest, a soft throbbing that I wish would stop, its endless rhythm maddeningly futile. With glazed eyes I walk mechanically forward, following the murky form of Tereil, my lord and master; the man who gave me a chance to prove myself many years ago, and to who I owe my life and more. His wings, once adorned with gossamer feathers, are naught but bare cold bone, a symbol of the plight that has stricken us all. My feet move as if possessed by a life of their own, for I do not think that I have the will power to move left in front of right.

An eternity slips by and I do not notice, wrapped in despair, embracing the visions of hopelessness that seem to emanate from the angel. Or perhaps it is just minutes, I cannot tell, and do not care to find out, so strong are the emotions that have castrated my mind. I feel a tiny pinprick screaming from the nether reaches of my consciousness, its voice incessant and panicked. Tides of despair attempt to engulf the aberration and smother it, but instead it grows louder and stronger, its message clearer with each passing moment.

This is not me. These thoughts are not mine. Run! Flee! Get away!

I shake my head, my hand rising to slap at my ear as if to swat away a deer fly, wanting nothing more than to be left alone in my sorrow. I quicken my pace, seeking to leave the buzz behind but still it pursues me, growing louder and louder until it almost eclipses the thoughts of meaninglessness.

Through its confused haze my mind registers the utter devastation of the entry hall: statues have been smashed, tapestries torn, and holy symbols desecrated. The gates to Syraph Keep looms before us, the sharp spikes of the portcullis halfway lowered; they have been jammed in place since the Goddess cast the fortress into this accursed mountain range. Still I stumble forward, trailing the impassive back of Tereil as he seems to glide through the destruction, unconcerned and uncaring.

The timbre of our footfalls changes from sharp and hollow to dull and earthy as we exit the keep and enter the dark maze of passageways that have been hewn from the mountain rock. I am torn between blind panic and morbid depression, but am paralyzed by the constricting cavern walls, and so I follow my master closely, unable to resolve the epic struggle that is taking place within my head. The dank musty smell of the caves slowly turns rancid as I trudge forward, step after stubborn step. Death lives here; decay rules supreme.

And then the late day light breaks through the veil of darkness and a wave of fresh air fills my lungs as I step from the mouth of the cave into the outside world for the first time in weeks. The oppressive grip of Tereil’s despair slips, and the frantic voice again fills my mind.

Run! Get away! Flee this place!

This time I act on the impulse. With my heart pounding I run from the cave entrance, scrambling through the blasted rocks and low lying scrub with reckless abandon. Every step carries me farther from my master, farther from my home. I trip and fall often, picking my way through the rocky mountain terrain, pain flaring across my shins and the palms of my hands. I cannot hear him following me, but I am too afraid to look back; the memory of the suicidal sorrow inflicted on my mind driving me onwards. I see vultures circling overhead, certainly an ill omen, and impulsively a prayer to Isonia springs to mind. Memories of her wrath still my tongue, the annihilation of the prayer chamber is still fresh in my memory, and so instead I grit my teeth and move onwards in silence. I have no destination in mind except away; I hope that is enough to guide me to safety.

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