Chapter 4: The Dust of the Road
As she continued her march to the city, Hallsassring found herself refreshed and eager for the next encounter. The good food and cheerful company of a kind family had removed much of her weariness. She even found herself enjoying the warm sunlight, which surprised her, given that its dry heat was so different from the cool damp she was used to at home.
She noticed that the farms around her were getting smaller and closer to each other. Soon they gave way to houses and sheds on parcels of land barely larger than the houses themselves. The outline of the city loomed ahead of her and she was struck by its size. The prospect of being surrounded by so many buildings and folk was daunting, but not enough to disturb her current contentment.
Earlier she had been the lone traveler on the road, but now there were many folk and a great variety of them. She was particularly struck by a band of massive bull-like creatures marching steadily toward the city.They must be Ushen, another of the great Ten Races of the Tamarran Continent.
She had just been passed by several wagons when she felt a sense of unease, a twist in her gut that did not come from anything she saw or heard. She was familiar with the sensation: all Nossring possessed an ability to sense when something was out of place or unnatural in the world around them. It was an instinct as ancient as the race of Nossring themselves — a perception she trusted as much as her eyes or ears.
She scanned her surroundings, looking for the cause of the disquieting perception, but it revealed nothing. As she strolled forward the feeling grew stronger and her unease turned into dread. Something was out there, unseen, always just outside the corner of her eye. It was dark and foul, and it was powerful; and she knew that it had noticed her and was following her as she walked.
Her judgment told her not to stop or slow down so she pushed ahead, ever watchful of her surroundings. As her next step slapped against the hard stone road, a powerful image invaded her mind. It was a vision of danger, of an imminent impending battle. The memory did not belong to her but she could not tell to whom it belonged.
She shuddered as her mind, unbidden, showed her an ancient cavern, deep under a mountain. She realized that she was looking through another being’s eyes, peering into the darkness of the chamber. Her foes were not far away, but they had not yet noticed her so she had the advantage.
A gray mist slowly wrapped itself around the tall, thin body she occupied. The mist was strangely substantial: thick, almost viscous, it clung to her skin. She could touch it and even, she knew, control it.
Then the fog around her took shape, transforming into a flinty gray shaft. It burned with power, and she was the source of that power. She folded the light between her fingers, feeling the immense force that lay curled in her hand. Malice consumed her, a hatred deep and ancient that would only be satisfied by slaughter and the subjugation of any who might stand in her way.
Suddenly, she realized that her enemies had become aware of her. There were two of them, and she could sense them bringing forth their own sources of power to resist hers. A light grew from each opponent and penetrated the cavern’s darkness. One of her foes conjured a verdant green light from one hand and a solid, unwavering purple from the other. From the other foe came a separate light, also of immense power and in some way related to the other lights of power. The second foe produced a brilliant white light, clean and pure. It pierced the two lights, the green and purple, and it drew them together, making the three of them into a single unified force.
Without warning, the three entwined lights of its foes surged toward her. She was unprepared for such a swift strike, but even so, quickly formed the gray mists of her own power into a shield to strike aside the blow. It redirected the enemies’ blow, but only for a moment. The braid of lights pushed aside her parry and pierced her gray defense. The shaft of green and purple light united by white struck the center of her form and buried itself deep in her chest. She wailed in pain and wild despair, shocked to have been bested and in agony from the deep wound that crossed her breast. She screamed again, this time a shriek of hatred, of loathing aimed at those who had too easily defiled her. She groped at her gray power and dragged it back to her body to expel the enemy’s weapon from her chest.
She was deeply wounded but not fatally, but she knew she must retreat. Focusing her strength, she summoned the image of where she must be, and with a twist of her will she transported herself. A flash of emptiness told her that she had succeeded, and had moved among the shadows. She no longer stood in the giant cavern where her enemies remained.
Inspecting her new surroundings she was comforted by the familiarity of the nine pillars that now surrounded her. They had been her protection for as long as she could remember and protected her still. She had found this place, deep underground, hidden from others, millenia ago and it had become her home. As always, in the center of the nine tall columns was a dark well, deep beyond measure. Within that well there was that which could heal her and could …
“Move along!” The shout broke her trance.
She was standing in the middle of the road, shaken, panting and sweating. A wagon behind her was trying to pass. The cart’s occupants shouted again and this time she reacted, moving quickly to the side of the road. A number of folk were staring at her, clearly wondering whether she was in her right mind. She was not. She had just been in another’s mind. Hallsassring came to her senses enough to give them an angry glare, which seemed to satisfy their concern. They shook their heads and moved on.
The feeling that she was being watched and followed was now gone. Hallsassring wiped her sleeve across her face to brush away the afternoon’s sweat and try to rid herself of this fear. Never in her life had she experienced such a vivid sense of evil or a vision of such force. The final pieces of the horror drifted away, but not before she grasped at it one last time, trying to understand what had happened. She could sense only that the vision had been real; and that it had happened long ago and far away. A final glimmer told her that the creature whose memory she experienced was still very much alive, and very dangerous.
Then the dream was gone. Hallsassring felt her muscles relax, and a deep sense of relief rushed over her.
She looked back to the road with its steady stream of passersby, and remembered the quest that had brought her here. For a reason she could not explain, she found herself thinking of her beloved mentor Fellspring. One memory in particular presented itself, one of his many zealous admonitions to her; “Hallsassring, the world is right here in front of you, not in your head.” She smiled as she remembered his stern, caring face and his finger poking her forehead. She missed him.
But now it was time to focus. The city was only a few hundred yards ahead.
Stowing away the last vestiges of the episode, she resumed her quest. There would be time later to consider the meaning of what had just passed. She would finish the first leg of her journey to the City of Tarnath so that she could begin the task that had brought her here: rescuing her beloved Alliss.