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Official website of Science Fiction and Fantasy Author Carol Hightshoe

Chaos Challenged

Book Four: Chaos Reigns Saga


Chapter One

“Chaos take it!” Thynitic’s voice echoed in the silence of her throne room.

She watched Drezmona after she sent her to fetch Kyrianna and bring the girl to her citadel. Watched as the demoness betrayed her, letting the girl leave with her friends. Even as the Lady of Chaos, she was finding it harder and harder to thread her way through the chaos swirling around her. Her own plans were crumbling and the thread of order she had clung to for so long was dying.

The goddess flung the glass she was holding against the wall and watched as the blood-red color of the Lorniwen blended into the black of the obsidian. 

Both Kyrianna and Torliana had renounced her, stripping her of more of her power and sending her deeper into the chaos she had been born from. But, there was something neither of them could renounce nor deny—and that would be what brought them back to her. Or, at least she hoped it would. Things were moving too quickly out of her control. She needed to regain what control she could. She would start with Torliana and Brular

~ * ~

Torliana was trapped in a sightless and soundless prison. She could feel the floor beneath her feet along with the weight and waves of pain from the manacles on her wrists. She could smell the sweet incense Thynitic favored for the braziers in her throne room. Incense made from a flower that grew only in Kilenter Forest on Rhysia. The only senses left to her were touch and smell. That would be enough. Her hands and ability to wield magic might be restrained by the manacles she wore, but her feet were free. One way or the other she was determined to free herself from Thynitic.

All these decades serving the Lady of Chaos she had continued to believe Brular would have cast her out of the temple. She had failed in her trial to be named a Flame Dancer and had violated more than just a few of the rules of Mount Veri. Thynitic had spoken to her from the flames of her meditation brazier and warned her Brular would reject her and cast her out of the temple. His attitude when she had approached him after the trial had convinced her Thynitic was correct and she had called out to the Lady of Chaos, summoning a fog of chaos to consume the temple.

The results had been horrible. Vile magic infested the very walls, warping the bodies of some and twisting the minds of others. Demons stalked the corridors. Monks, clerics and paladins were caught in the madness that pitted one against the other as the order of the temple was swept away. All this she saw as she made her way to Brular’s office where the bodies of his most loyal followers lay, slain by Rudalynth, Thynitic’s most devote and powerful chaos demon, while he had been powerless to help them. 

She had wanted to kill him at the time, for rejecting her, for his own blindness and lack of caring, but Thynitic wanted Brular sent to her. Torliana opened a portal to Thynitic’s citadel and he had been taken by the chaos demons. 

That day had been a source of strength for her all these years. It was her greatest victory. She had molded the chaos to her needs and her desires to bring down those she saw as her enemies. Now, it was her worst nightmare.

The man she had sent to the Abyss those decades past had come to her just hours ago. He had chased her like a mad animal through the planes and finally had a chance to vent his anger and pain upon her, but refused to do so. He had done something she would never have imagined him doing: He forgave her. As the Keeper of Mount Veri and a rited judge of Shokar, he forgave and absolved her of her crimes. He did this even as the demons reached through a portal to take him back to Thynitic. He forgave her for the destruction of Mount Veri, the deaths of those there that night and for the evil done.

He also told her he would not have cast her out; that the rules of the temple bound him as they did any other and he could not impose any such punishment, even if he had wanted to. Thynitic had lied to her and she had destroyed everything because of that lie. Because she did not have faith in the one person she should have trusted the most. 

Instead, she had reveled in the torments the chaos demons and even she herself had laid on him during the years. Her heart still burned with the passion she had felt for him, but it had turned from love to anger and hatred at his rejection of what she had offered him.

She had seen in him, when he came to the temple, a paragon of law and structure. She was an elf, more ruled by chaos, but she had found no place among her kindred and had sought the temple of Hellavar to find some sort of balance in her life. Then that balance had been disrupted because she had been drawn to Brular, but it was only she who realized it. Even when she had invited him to stay while she danced to welcome the coming spring and the rebirth and renewal of life, he had failed to see. In her desperation she had gone to Rynalia, the Mistress of the Flame and head of the Brotherhood. She wanted to know how one as ordered as she was had found her passion and given herself to both her husband and Hellavar. She wanted to understand Brular and hoped to find the spark that might ignite the fires of passion in him.

Rynalia had told her Brular had been orphaned at a very young age and raised by the church. While only about forty years old, a short time to an elf, he had spent a human’s eternity within the scriptures. She had likened him to a piece of wood scorched for decades and now difficult to ignite. Rynalia had then chided her on setting her heart on that which was least attainable.

How right you were, Mistress. And in the end, I betrayed myself and all of you because I couldn’t see.

Her hands balled into fists as Thynitic’s voice broke through the silence. 

“Torliana walk forward. You are a bigger fool than that living scab of a priest. You thought to take my power for your own; thinking I wouldn’t know. And then when that priest gave you his forgiveness, you had the gall to try and renounce me.” Her voice became a mocking laugh. “All this time devoted to me and you think it can be all washed away by a touch and a moment of guilt. For all the power you have touched and held, you are still a fool. There are patterns within the chaos—you are where I want you to be.”

Torliana took a breath. “I am a fool for believing in you.” She took another breath. “If there are patterns within the chaos—and I am where you wanted me, then why was a simpering half-elf child able to evade your control?”

“Who says she did? Perhaps she is where I wish her to be also. However, she will need to be taught respect—just as you do. You can stop walking now.”

She could sense a presence standing in front of her, then came the sting of a hard slap across her face. Her anger flashed and she lashed out with her right foot. To her surprise, she connected and she felt the crack of ribs. She spun on her right foot, brought her other leg up and around in a high arc that connected with what she hoped was Thynitic’s head. She didn’t have any real hope of defeating the goddess, but she would give a good accounting of herself before she fell.

Her motions flowed smoothly and automatically. One foot striking even as the other was again touching the floor. She didn’t keep track of her strikes; only that they were connecting with her unseen opponent, who did not seem to be defending herself. She’s waiting for me to misstep; to make a mistake, she thought. Playing with me. This only fueled her anger further, and she focused that rage and hatred into a kick that connected with what she thought was her opponent’s chest. She felt the bones and flesh collapse then her foot press into the body, just before she felt it fall to the floor.

“Impressive, Chosen,” Thynitic’s voice came. “I shudder to think what you would do to someone you hate.” Her voice was slow, each word deliberate.

“No!” She let herself fall to the floor. “Bru…” She choked on his name.

“K…Kee…Keeper.” There was no reply.

She stretched out her right hand, her fingers touched his face and she felt a tingle go up her arm at the contact. The skin was rough and uneven, the jaw shattered.

She let the tears fall as she sat there. “Does he still live?” She asked as her fingers moved to his neck.

A hand moved to cover hers and again that tingle—this time in her heart. “I let my anger, like my fear and doubt before, betray us.” The hand squeezed hers and she knew she was forgiven—yet again.

“What a pathetic pair you are,” Thynitic said. “An aged priest who will not let the fires of passion into his soul and an elf who denied those fires for so long, only to let her herself now be ruled by them and lose all touch with reality. It was I your anger was directed at, Torliana, but you did not stop to think as you lashed out. If you had, would you have continued? Do you honestly believe I would stand there and let you attack me?”

There was a long pause.

“Nothing else to say. Then, I will leave you two together to think on what I have said.”

Sounds returned and Torliana listened for a few seconds. There was no other sound in the room, other than Brular’s labored wheezing. She knew that sound. One of his ribs had punctured a lung. He was dying and he had still forgiven her. Thynitic was wrong; the spark had been lit.

“Let him find his peace,” she whispered. “Let him rest.” His hand continued to clutch hers and he coughed as he tried to draw a breath.

“It will take him many long and painful minutes to die, Torliana. If you are merciful you will grant him a quick death.” There was a pause and she could see Thynitic in her mind holding the blood-red amulet. “However, it will not be for long.”

Torliana sat holding his hand for several minutes. She could sense his pain, so much of it. “At least I can spare you this,” she said as she tried to release his hand.

He wouldn’t let go of her hand. “Please, Keeper, I only want to help you.” His hand held hers tight. She stopped trying to pull away. His hand moved slowly up to her face and his finger traced her lips. “You want me to talk to you?”

His hand dropped back down to hers and he squeezed once.

Torliana wiped her eyes and nodded. “What would you care to hear?”

His hand moved to her wrist and his fingers wrapped around it and squeezed, before they returned to her hand.

“Myself, then.” She crossed her legs and composed herself. “I don’t remember much before I came to the temple of Hellavar,” she said. “All I remember was that I knew I didn’t belong in Johran. I don’t know what led me to Mount Veri, but something did.” There was an increase in the pressure on her hand when she mentioned Mount Veri and she felt her breath catch in her throat. “Please, no. Not the temple. I can’t. All the death and destruction I caused.”

His hand tightened on hers—twice. The pressure was powerful and it demanded her compliance. His hand released hers for a moment then tightened again—twice. He guided her hand to his shoulder and squeezed again. “You want me to talk about you.” The single affirmative squeeze.

“I had come to the temple a few days before your arrival. The ritual of the Summer Flame was only days away and the Kindling prepared the courtyard. Even though I had been there only two days, I understood Rynalia was the absolute authority within the temple. The Keeper was feeling his age and had passed many of his duties to her.”

She sat up straighter and left her hand on his shoulder. “You arrived on the day of the Feast of the Summer Flame. Several of the new clerics whispered about your arrival. Did you know they all spoke of you with such reverence and awe? The great bringer of law. Hellavar’s blazing judge. He who presides over Tormasus’ Lord High General and Dh’Mark’s King were the things they called you.” Her voice lost its melancholy. “You were a legend to the Kindling. They all wanted to see the incredible figure who made thieves cower and city-states bow.” She grinned. “I think they were disappointed. You weren’t seven feet tall and sheathed in radiant flame. You were an unimposing man who could hardly fill out the armor he wore.”

She laughed. “When you slid off your horse, your stride was hobbled. I wondered if you even liked to ride.” His hand squeezed hers twice. “So the High Judge roamed the entire eastern expanse of Shokar and was saddle sore the entire way.” She laughed again as both their hands tightened. “That just creates a new picture of all those tales the Kindling told of you. The mighty judge laid low by his four legged steed.”

She swallowed her laughter and let her left hand stroke his where it rested on her right. “Here was this man whose reputation held the Kindling almost in prayer to his great deeds and he was hardly worthy, in my mind, of training beside me. He was just a weak little cleric whose name preceded him. I was shocked when Rynalia first approached and greeted you with a bow of her head. I found it offensive to the Brotherhood that our Mistress would give deference to such an individual. I had seen how the brothers and sisters of the flame honed their bodies, minds and souls to perfection and harmony with their surroundings. I looked forward to the part of the Feast where they would dance among the flames. Yet, she accepted you as an equal without the least confrontation.” She paused and took a deep breath.

“I did not see you again until that evening. You had traded your armor for your robes and sat next to the outgoing Keeper as the Flame Dancers celebrated among the flames. I marveled at how they moved and jumped, becoming one with the flames. Their movements were euphoric, without hesitation, thought or fear. The crackling of the fire spoke to them and the heat caressed their bodies as they moved. I had been told the Keeper, as part of the ceremony, would summon living flame to take part in the closing of the dance. No one knew, did they, that you would take the Keeper’s place that evening in the summoning?”

His breathing had slowed and grown more labored, but his grip was still strong as she felt it tighten and release twice.

“You rose and descended between the roaring flames as we waited. Then you waved your hands and spoke in the language of fire. The burning wood crackled with power as you spoke. I was ready to see a giant of radiant heat appear. Instead of being dumbstruck by a display of power; I was awestruck with wonder. The creatures were tiny and beautiful as they flew with sparks trailing after them. They were like hummingbirds of vivid orange and red flickering light. They fluttered around us and we were enchanted. I reached out and one responded by lightly caressing me. Its touch was like the warmth of a bath or the kiss of a lover.

“Everyone watched as the birds you summoned surrounded the courtyard in smoke. Then one of the Kindling called out ‘eyes?’ You had summoned sentient smoke that chased the Flame Dancers wrapping them in cloaks. You were then sheathed in your own blue flames and your voice elevated the fires even higher. Your arms rose to the sky and you dropped your head. With a flash of fire and the sound of thunder, something appeared behind you. The molten rock figure knelt with its left knee to the ground and its head bowed. It was eerie as both of your faces rose together and both sets of eyes burned with the same inner fire. It was a magnificent display; one I have never forgotten and will never forget. I have wielded power that surpassed your own, but have never had the control or mastery you possess; it has always evaded me.”

She felt his hand go limp in hers. “After that day, I would never consider you weak. You were Brular Eglis, the burning bringer of order. Your face was the one that would stare back at me from the fires from that day forward until she took that from me.”

Tears flowed freely as she continued to hold his lifeless hand. “I wish this was truly goodbye, Keeper; but she will never let you go. How many more times must I see you die? How many more times must you bear the consequences of my actions?” She remained there, in silence until the demons came for him, to bring him to Thynitic. She continued to sit there praying Resare would take pity on Brular and destroy his soul; anything to release them both from this misery. However, The Lord of Death had never done so before and she knew he would not do so now.

She collapsed on the floor. “Hellavar’s blessing keeps your mind intact and Resare lets you return over and over again. Why do they damn you to her endless torment yet again?”

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