Songs by the Hearth
Thaal’s First Lead
“If you’ve traveled as far as you claim, why would you waste my time like this?”
Thaal’s face screwed up in pain. He had been too hasty, again.
“Feh. Take a minute to pull that splitting headache together.”
Subtly disregarding his tutor, Thaal sat back up, and held the image in his head. Black feathers, wrapping up his memories, thoughts, and feelings.
associate with it
there is no differentiation
His eyes opened, and his raised the rod and knife over the circle on the table. Another couple drops of blood hit the center. The words were spoken, more slowly this time.
“Ah, there it is. Avian scout, eh?”
“Yes. Awareness is tantamout to fitness.”
“I hope it’s worth it, because this means you’ll be taking night watch.”
The edge of Thaal’s mouth threatened to curl up into a smile, but he suppressed it.
In a lightless room, Thaal sat with a decrepit tome open in his lap. His green eyes were closed, but his new, white eyes were always open. A faint rustling of feathers could be heard, as the familiar’s head rapidly took in the pages. He could not read the language written there, but he’d seen them elsewhere, and felt sure he’d make sense of it soon…
“Curious”, softly spoke a voice behind him.
Thaal didn’t move. It was unwise to start bluffing right away.
“You come all the way out here; say you’re journeying for knowledge, and then you start digging around in books like that. You’re either here to fulfill a death-wish, or to spy on me.”
Thaal tensed up. A pale light played about in his right palm.
“Heh. Easy, boy. I’m not going to do you in, as long as you answer honestly. What is the knowledge you’re really after?”
Thaal considered his options. “…knowledge to unravel fear and darkness.”
The voice chuckled. “You have no more business here. Head west. Don’t come back.”
There was no other sound. The room was empty.
The sun had set twice before Thaal stepped into the forest clearing. A large hill to his left bore a stone mouth leading downward. There was a sick, metallic smell around the place.
come on down, Thaal, and join the party
The invitation entered his mind wordlessly, carried on a sound like gurgling water and angry hornets. He descended, maybe a thousand paces, into the cave. After rounding a corner, a flicker of torchlight led Thaal to a congregation of several obscured figures, standing in an open semicircle to him.
“Your ambition was enough to lead you here. I am glad. Whatever it is I smell on you, it is now at home.”
Thaal recognized his tutor’s voice, but said nothing.
“You are among brothers, now. You forsook any chance to turn away from this when you entered here. You have peered into the darkness; it has peered back, and learned your name. Do you have any notion of the situation you’ve wandered into?”
“I would defy you to spook me.”
A round of toothy grins broke out around the room.
“Then let’s get started!”
The dark circles around Thaal’s eyes had deepened threefold in the last month. His mouth opened and moved, but the utterance of his voice brought no words. A sound like gurgling water and angry hornets escaped his lips, to which his tutor shuddered and sighed; in pain, or pleasure, Thaal was not certain. At the same moment, a small sphere of pure blackness, held above the intricate ritual circle that took up most of the cave floor, resonated, growing with a spastic twitching, before stabilizing again.
“Like that, yes; I am sure you can feel the eminence of such a blessed word. Such a language is spoken by beings truly worthy of servitude and deference. Your diligent studies have put you on schedule.” The man’s eyes were open wide with excitement. “It is coming, drawn to the beacon, brightening our senses with its approach. When It arrives to our call, we shall carve a swath of agony into the hillfolk, and be blessed by Its radiance.”
damn, Thaal thought. it just isn’t worth it
Thaal stood up. “How soon?”
His tutor’s countenance of manic delight held like wax. “It could be any day. Our bodies are wrenching themselves apart in preparation; I’ve been losing blood from most orifices for almost seven days.”
Thaal grimaced. He had been suffering similarly, sitting in the presence of that drop of abyss. He did not move for a moment, then sighed, and took a few paces towards the center of the room.
The grinning man’s grin faded slightly. “Careful, now…”
Taking no heed, he strode up to the edge of the circle , and rubbed out a section with his foot. The room was filled with a sound like audible suffering, and the suspended darkness shrunk and blinked out. Thaal tuned out the furious screaming of his crazed tutor, thinking
it feels like I was getting pretty close, too
He sidestepped a dagger aimed at his back, wrenched it away from his assailant, and opened the first throat of the night. Every member of these twisted bastards should be in attendance tonight, which was too convenient to ignore. He turned and moved silently through the connecting tunnel, following the sound of panicked conversation.
Thaal closed the book he was reading, which had been open to the last page. He rubbed his eyes and exhaled a frustrated sigh, and tossed the book into a pile of similar transcripts.
“Damn. Similar, but I don’t think this is it, after all.”
He chuckled a sardonic farewell to the skeletons in the corner, and sealed the cave entrance with a small explosive charge.