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Awarth · Fabled Hearts

Awarth

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In the dark mirrorrealm of Kigan, Awarth, in the lands of Blackrise Surtmuilim, in particular in the Shatterlands Ghochran and within the region of Fasil-Yad, there was a curious city. This city had at its centre a magnificent, though uncompleted, gleaming white clocktower that even someone numb to magic could feel the power emanating from.

The Clocktower dominated the city, which was understandable considering that most of the other buildings were cones that were of a suitable size for tiny people, there were however two buildings that were of a more regular size, quite different from the grand scale of the clocktower or the small scale of the cone buildings.

One of these buildings was another tower, though not a clocktower. This tower was however curiously high for how thin it was, like the clocktower it was unquestionably magical. It was a twisted stem of mirrored tubes that the darkness slipped off of, but the tubes bent at harsh angles creating wells of darkness all over the tower. Since the darkness was so directed by the construction of the tower, it glowed dimly in the deep dark of Awarth.

The other building had considerably less effort in its construction. It was made from large slabs of white rock, fused together with magic, it was likely the building did not even have foundations. The large slabs had no windows, for Awarth has no day in which light would be let through.

There was merely a grate stuck in the upper part of one of the walls for ventilation. The roof was conical, but instead of going to a point, it split open near the top, while a cap was on top of this opening. Smoke lazily flowed out of the opening, for you see, the building was a forge and a temporary home of the smith who worked the forge.

The smith in question had just gotten up, and was about to begin his work. He was fairly content with the city, who’s name was Talvharn. There were a few reasons for it. The gnomes, the Lord of the Clocktower and the residents of the other tower were all quite good neighbours, that was a big plus to the smith. There was just the right sort of materials in abundance. He had next to no competition.

Main thing that the smith liked however was the low, low chances of him being run out of town and the fact that he actually got work.

You see, the smith was a tainted, a crossbreed with the ancestry of more than three races. He had a bit of a complex about his appearance after all he had gone through before Talvharn had been suggested as a safe haven to him by a passing merchant, so he wore a heavy leather hood that hid his face. He did however quite noticeably have four arms, and though there were thick black leather gloves on each limb, the bulky green arms were visibly a strange mishmash for skin, scale and chitin.

Tainted face much discrimination in the worlds of Kigan and Awarth, but a strange settlement like the one he was in? Gnomes themselves, being tiny cones with feet and eyes, normally are treated little better than pests. Added to that gnomes are usually quite disposed to fear and fainting, so once they had gotten used to his presence weren’t about to be terribly hateful. The lord of the clocktower himself was also a kind of commonly hated being.

At Talvharn the smith’s skills were valued.

He peered at his forgefire, the lord of the clocktower had looped the time of the flames, they would as long as the power was upon them, never go out or lessen in heat. The blue flames blazed as strongly as they had the day before. Satisfied that the fire was in order, he picked up his enchanted tongs and grabbed a bar of smelted shadow. He had worked hard to make the shadow metal the day before.

Just as his mother had taught him, he had mixed ore and shadow, and then pulled away the traits of the ore, leaving only shadow to infuse the blank metal. It was a slow process, but the smith was proud of the level of purity of shadow his bars had.

He thrust the bar into the fire, heating it, then he brought it to his azure anvil. With his two left hands he picked up a heavy hammer that looked far too rusty, and had a very short handle, his two hands barely having room to both go on it.

He pounded the shadow metal flat, putting it back into fire whenever he needed to. Then grabbing a second pair of tongs he began to roll the sheet up. In short order it was a tube. He pulled out a mask made of the black ice of Fasil-Yad, then he took out the wand that had, supposedly been in his family for years. It was almost too long to be called a wand, and had a curious bulb on the end of it.

The wand had actually been resting in the middle of the forgefire, so he had to wait for a while before he could safely handle it. When it cooled he grabbed it and touched the wand’s bulb to the tube of shadow metal. The bulb burst into furious flame, and sparks bounced off against his ice-mask. He quickly got to sealing the tube up.

He repeated this activity, making several tubes of varying lengths until he was out of shadowmetal bars. It was then that he set all the tubes aside and began smelting more shadowmetal.

As he was doing so, he eventually spotted the quivering figure of a red gnome. He stopped his work.

“You here for the tubes?” he asked, knowing the answer.

The gnome was transfixed with fear, but after a period of awkward silence he managed to speak.

“A-ahh, yes, for the, um scaffolding… we aren’t all mages after all. Aha. ha. ha.” He laughed nervously.

The smith gestured towards the pile of pipes.

The gnome bobbed and dashed out, and then several other gnomes dashed in, and together they all lifted the pipes with their minds and out of the forge.

The smith sighed. A lot of the gnomes still weren’t that used to him.

He looked forlornly at his shadowmetal bars.

Scaffolding. He had been making pipes for scaffolding pretty much ever since he had gotten to Talvharn.

He got back to work, glad he had found such a safe haven, but he really would have liked to been making something a bit more glamorous, even if it was only once in a while.

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Chapter 21: Waters of a Burdened Heart

Of the six prime elements, heart is often considered the most potent, but then considering that in one sense potency is an aspect of heart, this isn’t surprising. The name of the element comes from what the element is named after, heartflame, the spark of life. It is by the heartflame that most beings generate magic, and thus can move and act. Many believe that if something does not have heartflame, it is without soul. An unliving being, no different from a rock.

The element of heart is connected to both hearts metaphorical and physical as well as heartflame. By the power of heart a hero can keep fighting till he turns to dust, and even then, the spirit might rage on. By the power of heart someone’s corrupt emotions can distort their form and mind, beginning their transformation into a walking wound, a blight to all. If a being loses heart, it will surely die.

Ivak’s race, the aehi, the heart elves are beings heavily connected to heart.

There is records of aehi who held such a strong connection to heart that they could delve into the hearts of others, and thus hold power over others. Though, the ability is either non-existent myth or so rare that it may as well be. Not all aehi bear a heartcrest, let alone power over the hearts of others.

Now, as mythical as the aehi’s mastery of heart is, there is the question; what would happen if a being so strongly aligned with heart would try to interfere with the heart of another while inside the heart of another being?

Ivak was in darkness, he could not see anything.

-Master, this is your last chance to go back, once the retrieval system is activated, this one cannot bring you back nor aid you-

Ivak shook his head.

“I’ve made my mind up, I’m going to get her back for them”

-Very well master, you shall enter the remnants of her trial-

Then Ivak fell. He yelled in surprise and flailed about. He fell so fast and far that he feared what would happen when he came to the end of his fall, if there was indeed an end. Ivak hit water, he felt something binding him, restricting trying to drag him down. Ivak resisted and found his opposition surprisingly weak, he broke the surface of the water.

Ivak found himself waist deep in black waters, his surroundings were filled with darkness, but he could clearly see the water before him. He wished he could not, for the waves formed clutching pleading hands, they pulled against Ivak, trying to drag him beneath the waters. The crash of the waves was a wail, cries for help. Ivak was a bit confused that the water only came up to his waist, it had seemed much deeper when he had been beneath it.

He forced his way through the clinging waves, the voices entreating him to save them, he knew that these voices were not of real beings.

As he waded through the water, he began to despair of his task, the waters seemed endless. He then noticed, just as he despaired, the waters rose up to his chest and made to pull him down. Ivak however burst free with a fury.

“I’ll not be consumed by a mere illusion!” he roared.

With that he rushed through the waters, they receded to his ankles, trying vainly to trip him up, but while the waters were low around him, they were far deeper the further they got from him.

Eventually, after Ivak had long since lost track of time, he spotted something bobbing amid some distant waves, he wasted no time it getting over to whatever it was.

Whatever in this case was the body of Quil. The waves seemed peaceful around her still form, they did not cry out for help. Ivak moved to pick the pixie up, but the waves seemed to always drift her away when he got close.

This happened a few times, before Ivak dove towards her and managed to get a hand on her, but the water forcefully clung to her. Ivak got a good look at her as he tried to pry her from the watery grasp. She was still breathing, but her eyes were dull and lifeless.

There was many things that could cause such a state, and Ivak had read of a few of them, but in the situation he was in, and what she had probably gone through, Ivak suspected she was losing her heart. He finally managed to pull her away.

The water grew wild and furious, Ivak lifted Quil high above the waves as they clawed and clashed against his body, trying to get the pixie back.

Ivak realised that he did not know how to get back. He wasn’t sure it would be good to go back, what with the state the pixie was in. He remembered old stories of his people, of powers they had over the heart. Not knowing what else to do, Ivak called upon his heart-crest, the sigil in his eye flashing. He didn’t know what to do, but he focused on the small life between his hands, ignoring the crying waves.

Nothing happened.

The waves tore at Ivak, sensing his despair, Quil fell from his hands, and Ivak found himself being dragged beneath the waves, their voices calling him to save them, there was a nasty accusatory bent to them. Ivak did not however give up. His eye shone and he looked into Quil’s empty eyes.

“I WANT TO HELP YOU, LET ME IN!” Ivak cried.

Perhaps Ivak imagined it, but it seemed like she stirred a bit.

The water however was having none of this, it pulled them both under. Ivak’s head filled with the pleading of the water, but Ivak knew there was only one person other than himself. That there was only one that needed saved.

He had to get into her heart, if he could do that he was sure he could rouse her, he felt it in his blood. Ivak’s eyes remained fixed on Quil. Ivak transformed into a turquoise beam and shot into her, he didn’t know what he had done, he just felt drawn in. He dove into her heart.

The waters vanished and all that was left was Quil floating in darkness, a turquoise glow around her.

When Ivak opened his eyes, he found himself in a grey world. He was inside a house, but he was the size of a mouse, perhaps a bit larger. He could hear a the sobbing of a small girl. Ivak didn’t feel well qualified to wipe the tears away from a pixie girl’s eyes, but in that moment, he felt quite like one of the heroes from some of the books he had read.

“I just hope I don’t make things worse, though things are already pretty critical” Ivak didn’t want to be caught inside a dying heart or worse a twisted one.

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Chapter 20: The Heart of Ivakilnah

Ivak was in darkness, nothing at all was visible, not even his own nose.

Quil was in darkness, she could not even see the tips of her little feet.

They were both in darkness, a thick heavy darkness. They were in the same place, they were together and yet they were separate, when one called out, the other could not hear.

Before them appeared a being that seemed familiar to then even though they had never seen it before, or seen its like before.

It was an obsidian figure, they could see it quite clearly in spite of the dark. It had four black goat heads, each one pointed a different direction, but only one neck. Its skin looked like tar. It wore a suit, or perhaps the suit was part of its body, a strange affair with a few too many collars and buttons, buttons that glinted like silvery eyes. Instead of cloven hooves for feet or even feet at all it had a pair of hands it stood on, extremely hairy hands. The being did not however have any hands at the ends of its arms, indeed while its sleeves seemed filled out, fit to burst their queer seams, it appeared that there was nothing up them at all, not even a dove or a card.

“What are you?” Ivak asked.

“Where am I?” Quil asked.

Quil knew what the being was as soon as it spoke, for it spoke with a wobbly dry voice.

-I am the heart of the castle- One head emitted.

-You are in the castle- The next bleated.

-As in the castle as one can be- Said another.

-You shall undergo the trial of ownership, as you have touched the orb with the desire to own the castle, and not simply use it- Finished the one pointing away from them.

“What form do these trials take?” Ivak asked.

“What if I don’t want to take this trial of yours, huh?” Quil pressed.

-The trial will take many forms- One head emitted.

-It will continue until you satisfy the requirements- The next bleated.

-It will also end when you give up, or are broken- Said another.

-If you do not take the trial, you will be banished from the castle and marked so that you may never return- Finished the one pointing away from them.

“What exactly happens when one wins the trial?” Ivak asked.

“What happens if you fail the trial?” Quil worried.

-If one wins, that being has dominion over the castle until their spirit ends- One head emitted.

-If one loses…- The next bleated.

-Judgement- Said another.

-Now answer, be banished or risk the unknown for the trial- Finished the one pointing away from them.

“It was mine anyway, after this trial, it will be mine in full” Ivak declared.

“I won’t give up this safe place, I will take the trial”

-Ah… good, right then- One head emitted.

-For the purposes of the trial, you need to consent to have your awareness manipulated- The next bleated.

-So that your actions, choices, words, may all be more honest- Said another

-Agree or be banished- Finished the one pointing away from them.

Ivak didn’t much like the sound of that, but he agreed all the same, as did Quil.

With that, the heads of the avatar of the castle pointed upwards, then they noisily folded into each other with a clashing and bashing of rock. The noise did not end as the rest of the spirit’s body folded up and away.

Then Ivak and Quil were together, alone in the darkness once more.

Ivak was in a deep arena, like the many arenas beneath the cityland of Leon-Ard, where merchants would bet on the fights. The arenas on the surface and the upper levels of the underground were quite humane, it was rare for someone to die. The lower one got however, the more death had a hand in the fights.

Guttering red torches ringed the ring, but they failed to give off any good light, the spectators were jeering shadows Ivak could not make out. There was one thing Ivak could make out, and that was the black cloaked form of his opponent, there was two blue eyes on the shoulders of the cloak. A towering giant with a helm. In spite of the helm opening into a t-shape before the face, Ivak could not see the face of his foe at all.

Ivak had no more time to consider his foe as the warrior struck out from his cloak with a sword that seemed more like the leg of an insect than a weapon. Still, it left a deep gouge on the ground. Ivak had handily avoided it. He thrust in with his own sword, which seemed more like someone had slotted a metal pole onto a hilt and grip, popped a spearhead on the end and called it a day.

His sword went deep into the folds of the warrior’s cloak, but if it did any harm, the warrior gave no sign of it. Instead the giant pushed his muscled arm from his cloak and took a slow swipe from the side at Ivak. Ivak ducked under the blade, and the leapt up, stabbing the warrior deep into his helmet. Ivak leapt away.

The warrior was unharmed.

Ivak decided to try something different, he moved about the warrior, dodging blow after blow, sometimes running here or there to another location, then dodging more of the warrior’s blows, which while at first had been slow an ponderous were becoming faster and faster, it would soon be the case that Ivak could not dodge the blows.

Ivak did not need more time. He stood before the warrior and called forth his crest, his eye shining, the crest flapping behind him. The warrior was in a moment sucked into the carved image Ivak had manipulated the fighter into making with his sword.

Ivak stood behind the walls of his castle, shouting at the rider to go faster. It was however no use, the shadowy goatish hordes were too close, Ivak had to make a choice, if he kept the drawbridge down, the goatish hordes, under the banner of two blue eyes would surely get in. He though of how many soldiers he still had. He sorrowfully made his choice and called for the drawbridge to be raised. Then he called for those he still had alive who could fire arrows and cast spells.

“We do not have enough people to push the hordes back, but stand and fight, we shall kill as many as we can from here, and we will never forget your sacrifice or our failure, but we shall make them pay.”

The rider gave bitter look to his king, then a resolved one. He turned and awaited the hordes under the shadow of the wall.

Ivak pushed against the green winds, again they threatened to bowl him over, it was bad enough that they stabbed into the core of his being with cold and wrenched the breath from his lungs, but they were also hitting him as a person might hit a nut to crack open and eat the insides.

Yes, Ivak felt for sure the winds wanted to tear him apart and devour him.

He pushed on.

They tore at him, growing fiercer with each step. His walking stick was yanked from his hand and reduced to splinters. His coat was torn and the remains lifted from his back.

He pushed on, it would have been easy to give up.

Each step brought further strength to the winds, which brought further destruction to his clothes.

He pushed on, but before long, he was naked to the rending wind.

It scoured his flesh. He was covered in wounds, but he continued. As he struggled through it devoured him, but he did not submit, he paused a few times and it seemed like an age before he moved again, but he did move again.

He pushed on, though he was nothing but a skeleton, picked clean.

He pushed on.

“I have your people are in my chains, submit and hand your castle over to me, I will release them without harm!”

Thus cried the blue warlord.

It was a vile thing to hold someone’s kin hostage, but the blue warlord was a man of his word. If he said he would release them, he would. There was nothing for it, Ivak would have to give up the castle, so did Ivak think.

But then he thought that it could be ill to leave his people without leader, so he decided to ask something of the blue warlord.

“Will you permit me to go in exile with my people?, If you do, I shall hand the castle over to you, and I shall keep my people from coming against you, we shall leave your lands, and what was once ours”

The blue warlord’s beetle mount shifted a bit to swallow up an errant chicken as the blue warlord pondered Ivak’s counter offer.

“I will agree to it”

So it was that Ivak lost the castle, but to his mind, there was no helping it. To him, his people were of more worth than a land or castle, and they had been defeated, it would have been another story if they had not been crushed.

Ivak, Master of the Castle walked through the squalid dark streets, dark broken forms huddled away from the sight of him and his entourage. The dead and the dying laid together with the living. It was in these streets that his daughter was murdered. Among these people. The murderer of his flesh and blood was among them. Ivak’s heart was filled with fury. He glared at those around him. Then his gaze softened. He let out a deep breath. He cried.

“The castle halls are empty, fill them with those that suffer here” Ivak said, wiping his tears.

A number of his faceless soldiers marched off.

“Milord, there is more here than will fill the halls” A shadowy advisor said.

“Then we take those that need shelter the most”

One of the soldiers came back.

“Milord, some of the people refuse to come, shall we force them?”

“No, take those that are willing, leave the others”

His heart raged, but he could not follow it.

If he did, the street would become a river of red.

They were beset by all sides, the neighbouring nations had already decided how to carve up the kingdom. Ivak looked once more at the map. All his political manoeuvring, in the end it would be for naught. He and his people would be subject to another ruler.

He stared at the map, then out to the sea beyond his window. It was over, his people would be as slaves, scorned and spat at. He felt like this had happened before. The right thing to do was not to resist, not to shed the blood of his people. It would be peaceful to give in.

Or was it?

The sea.

“Go! Call our mages, we need not submit yet! We shall tear the castle from the ground! We will find our freedom in the sea!”

Ivak went through situation after situation, each prodding his mind, his self, slowly drawing out a answer from him.

Finally Ivak found himself before a shadow of himself, fully aware once more. Both he and the shadow were before easels facing each other, pallet of paints and paintbrushes in hand.

The Shadow moved to paint, Ivak quickly realised that it was going to paint him, he feared what would happen if it did, so he resolved to paint and seal the shadow. He furiously painted, but the easel was slow to accept paint and the shadow was far faster than he was.

Then Ivak had a thought of some clarity. He picked up his easel and he threw it at the shadow, then he rushed over to it and began punching and clawing at the shadow. He did not stop until it was reduced to nothing.

Ivak sighed. It was over. He could feel it was over. He remembered all the situations he had been through, but they were as one remembers a dream.

All at once everything became bright and the avatar of the castle was there before him clapping while glittering red confetti fell down.

-Well done- One head emitted.

-Congratulations!- The next bleated.

-You have met the standards set by this one’s maker, Ceilron Shail- Said another

-Thus you are now the owner of the castle, others may still use it if they touch the orb, but you may call the orb to your side no matter where you are- Finished the one pointing away from him.

-Not only that, but you may banish whoever you wish from the castle- One head emitted.

-You messed up on a number of the situations- The next bleated.

-However, you were close enough to the ideals- Said another

-Relatively speaking at least. Now back to the castle with you- Finished the one pointing away from him.

With that, Ivak found himself back in the orb room, where he was quickly smothered by a distraught Claroosa.

“Oh you’re all right, praise our crest you are all right, you aren’t hurt anywhere? Oh my you look so haggard, what happened to you, nevermind, everything is fine now, I am so sorry I failed in protecting you” She said hurriedly.

“Am Fanh, Ifs awligh.” Ivak said, trying to escape Claroosa’s protective embrace and get air.

Claroosa drew back from him, noticing she was suffocating him.

“Sorry milord” She said, regaining her composure.

“Everything is fine Claroosa. I now truly own this castle, the orb” Ivak said.

“Well, that’s good, I’d be in a right fix if you hadn’t come back, wouldn’t get all of the payment for my services. Hmm? What happened to the thief?” Fatho wondered.

“Where is she, where is my sister?” a voice cried out.

Ivak looked at the wee folk huddled away from Fatho, Claroosa and himself. They looked back fearfully, but at the same time a bit defiant.

“Give her back, give me back my daughter”

Ivak looked away.

-Castle, what happened to the pixie?- Ivak thought to the castle

-Why she is stuck master, she cannot escape, in time she will end-

-Can nothing be done?-

-She can be helped. You need only touch the orb again and wish for it, if you do however, you must give up your ownership of the castle-

Ivak made his choice, he turned to the wee folk.

“You all can stay in the castle and… I will bring your daughter back to you”

Before anyone could stop him, Ivak touched the orb again, and right before their eyes vanished.

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