Chapter 16: The Demise of the Ritual
This world was one of brokenness. The Forbidden Lands were broken between different kinds of country. The wanderer rode past the Blasted Lands and the resting places of broken beasts, past the broken shoreline and the broken mountains to the Green Cape and to the great Gate Seal, which became the Broken Seal by the light of his sword. There was one last seal to break, one last beast to slay before a broken heart could be put to rest and a broken entity of shadow and spirit could be made whole.
The last of the wanderer's ties to his former life was severed with a broken whinny as his only companion warm with blood and soul plummeted into a river from a dizzying height. Wander called after her, disbelieving that the mare had saved his life. He'd been thrown from horses before, but that had been through accident or agitation, not at all like this. Agro had always been a brave mare – too brave for her own good.
The Dormin wondered about this. Dormin had grief as a part of its makeup, but feeling its measure in the organic vessel was quite curious. So much was united now that thoughts of loneliness, devotion and grief, formerly fragmented, could be felt keenly again for the first time in endless eons, and filtered through the mad heart of a human, these things were intensified.
Not all of Wander's blood was cold. Not yet. There was only one way to go – up and in.
Upon reaching the plateau, Wander beheld his final adversary. The baleful tower stood tall, with its eyes and structures on its wrists alight. It looked just a little bit more human to him than the other Colossi had. Its head, from what Wander could see of it, appeared human – like a man with down-turned horns. Other Colossi had taken human-like forms, but had heads and faces like those of beasts. The first and the sixth were bull-men. The third had a mask-like face and a quality like that of a grotesque doll. The fifteenth – the great sentry – had reminded Wander of an ape.
The landscape was dotted with broken pillars and ancient archer's posts, left over from the forgotten time when the denizens of this ancient country had defended themselves from sea-borne invaders or possibly from the Colossus that resided there. Dormin did not reminisce or give what was left of its vessel any kind of clue. The Dormin merely urged Wander on.
The young man dodged blots of fierce thunder-magic as he dove into an underground passage. The awakened giant shook the earth and the hunter staggered to get his footing. Something echoed in his head, something that was outside himself, but communicating with the shadows inside him.
"Hast thou not been caught up in her cursed fate?"
Wander shook his head and climbed up broken stonework, shimmied through tunnels and concentrated on dodging the bolts of death that were being shot towards him.
"Her curse hast swirled about thou. Thou hast suffered much for her. Hast thy sacrifice been of worth?"
Wander ground his teeth together. He exited a final corridor to find himself at the enormous feet of this last living statue. As he proceeded to climb its hanging stone tunic, he knew that the final fragment of shadow-soul was attempting to remain separate and was exercising its malice upon his mind.
Up the hunter scrambled over ancient architecture. It was magnificent and Wander had a flash of memory that he'd thought had fled from him of scrambling up the Tower of Heaven in the city of his birth, urgent to grasp the sacred sword that would make everything right again. The memory washed away, overshadowed by the driving need to kill and unite what was inside him with what was inside the last of the idols.
The warrior struck the soft spot on the Colossus' back without fear or tears of sorrow. He leapt up onto a hairy hand with pointed claws, scrambled up stone armor and struck more soft places. He used his archer's skill upon the creature's shoulder, hefted himself onto its neck-armor and made for the hair-covered head. He nearly fell to an instant death many times as the otherwise immobile being thrashed and swayed, loosening his grip and throwing him off balance.
Had he merely been swept away in a cursed fate, the ambient misfortune of another?
Perhaps Lord Emon had been right after all – in a way that none of his seers could have dreamed.
The Dormin returned home to find his temple invaded by living mortals. He could sense that it was they that had sought to keep the seals upon him in place. The last idol had been shattered and he had been freed. He knew, however, that the elder presented a threat. He was a man who knew the way of the seals.
The Dormin was thinking primarily in "male sense" now, rather than in its fragmented masculine and feminine voices - mostly because the body it had been united in was a male one and kept a wisp of its masculine personality. The vessel arose shakily, sluggish, as Dormin's invasion had rendered it mostly a corpse. The warrior was still alive, though his consciousness existed merely as a shadow.
"You!" the gray elder said.
Grief intensified as Dormin recognized this man as the source of his vessel's deep sadness. Had he been daring to breathe prayers over the corpse on the altar? The vessel stepped forward without Dormin's command. Anger welled up. It was a rage different than that of disturbed beings of earth.
Dormin had been certain that the ritual was complete and that he had taken over, as a whole entity, a new body. He'd thought he'd replace the young man's soul. One word pulled out of the darkness – a name - along with one strong feeling. The vessel stepped toward the altar and reached out.
Dormin pulled back at this rebellious fragment of mind. The shadow-consciousness grew stronger, threatening to take over. Even if it was only by a single fragment, a memory and scrap of the young man's soul refused to be relinquished.
Pain. Swift, sharp pain shot through the vessel's body. It tried to press forward, but collapsed and refused to work. It continued to try, its memory refusing to be consumed with staggering defiance.
Then the heart-wound came. One of the invading mortals had stabbed through the one of the principal "seals" that kept human souls united with the material world. The lingering ghost of the man improbably named "Wander" did not flee, however, as it had joined with the entity that controlled the souls of the dead. The Dormin's essence sprayed black blood all over the chamber. It came out in the kind of high-pressure spout that had issued from the seals of its former vessels as they'd been broken.
With this body broken, the Dormin unleashed itself in full force. It was free now and refused to let mortal creatures divide and conquer it again. At the same time, there was this uncontrollable anger – not entirely from the shadow-god, but from the wisp of a mortal that had become a part of it.
The unfortunate thing about the Dormin's true material form was its size. Much like most of the magical beings it had been sealed within, Dormin's true form was powerful, but lumbering. The pain of arrows fired by panicked men stung its arms and chest. It slammed the floor with a fist that would not descend quickly enough. It roared and thrashed.
None of the living men were bold enough to try to climb it.
For the glimmer of a moment, the fragment of a mortal soul that remained within the shadow knew what death had been like for the sixteen idols it had shattered. He knew the strange paradox of what it was like to be mighty, yet helpless.
The elder ascended the spiral stair, fleeing in terror. He preformed some kind of silent rite and threw the sacred sword into the temple pool. The swirling vortex of magical energies clawed at Dormin. The Dormin fought to stay material, to stay alive.
The mortal fragment fought to try to make it to the altar.
The Dormin flew through and out of him in wind-torn fragments.
Wander fought and reached for the altar.
The last thing that remained of him was his love for the girl. He remembered nothing of his life before the Forbidden Lands, before Dormin – but her. He remembered her – that he loved her and that he needed her to be alright.
He would never know that Dormin, in the end, had kept its promise.
The tickle of a velvet muzzle brought attention to tender new skin. The crippled horse turned away as the confused young woman picked up the strange, squirming child.
Poor little devil-child. He was not the horse's master. The horse's master had given himself until no memory remained.
Mono held the baby close, smiling ruefully. The child knew nothing but her warmth and the sense of love she conveyed through her gentle touch.
Perhaps that was the only thing immune to death….
If nothing else, love remained.