The Three KeysBeing the First of the Chronicles of Amon'Valura
The small window seemed to float in the air, held in place as it was by the thinnest of stone columns, a frame displaying the antiquity of a decaying sanctuary. Little remained of the building it was once part of; a temple to a dead god, unremembered by most, but containing secrets that lingered in the minds of some older than time. Aleena looked into the window, suddenly unsure - this place was old and carried with it the dread of the night, of the unknown darkness. She had never come this far from home before and the evening was fast upon her.
"I cannot stay, it is nearly night time," she almost pleaded, the confidence having drained from her with the chill of the approaching night.
"Do not fear Aleena, your mother trusts me. I will make sure no harm comes to you in this place."
Aleena turned from the window and looked at her friend. She was right; no harm could come to her while she was here. Smiling back at Aleena, through eyes of deep blue set in a face of perfect alabaster, Tellura urged the young girl on, anxious that she should continue.
"Please Aleena, continue. I promised your mother no harm would come to you in this place. Do this small thing for me and she will never want for anything again." The lie was spoken. It was not the first and was certainly not the last, but its significance was lost on the child. Aleena smiled again and turned back to the window wondering why Tellura needed her for this. After all, Tellura was bigger than her, older than her, she could do this much easier, but she had agreed to help. Her mother had made her promise.
Tellura brushed her blue hair out of her eyes, behind long pointed ears, and leaned forward on her crook, an old wooden staff in the fashion of that of a shepherd. She shifted her weight, her leg aching in the chill of the coming night; a welcome discomfort. The young aasimar girl moved forward and motioned for Aleena to climb through the window. It did not make any sense to her but she did as Tellura bade and tried to pull herself up onto the sill. She was not strong enough to lift her own weight and Tellura had to help her up.
Light blazed forth from the frame, cold green light the colour of disease and rot washed out along the ground forcing Tellura to squint against its violence. Aleena cried out in fear, loud and piercing, but it was gone seconds later as she lost her seat and tumbled backwards through the portal, disappearing with the sound of bare feet and deep, soft mud. Tellura smiled and let the sickly glow wash over her, her eyes reflecting the mire as she floated off the ground and followed the young girl through the window. Her goal was now almost close enough to touch.
Aleena sat on the cold stone floor not understanding where she was or how she got there. She began to sob quietly to herself, jumping in fright as Tellura's hand rested upon her shoulder.
"Come now my child, we are so close," Tellura whispered in her ear. Aleena sat for a moment; something was different. Something had changed in Tellura. Before she was kind, her voice soft, her smile friendly. Now her manner was more urgent, her voice subtly different. Aleena could not make these realisations herself, she was just a child, but she felt the change in the aasimars manner and it frightened her.
"Where are we?" she asked, tears starting to well in her eyes.
"In a place where none have been in a very long time," answered Tellura as she tapped the base of her crook upon the floor. A cold pale blue light began to glow from above her head illuminating a small chamber, barely large enough for a man to fit within. Its walls were covered in small etchings, markings that could barely be discerned. Tellura leant in close to the walls and began reading them, mouthing their sounds to herself, her voice an excited whisper. Aleena began crying, tears flowing freely down her cheeks, but Tellura ignored her, caught in her own world of ancient words. She reached out and touched one of the markings, smiling to herself as she began tracing seemingly random patterns about the tiny room. Finally her hand rested upon a small set of runes set in the shape of a circle. Tellura began to speak those words, ancient words not meant for mortal ears. Her voice was loud, impossibly loud, and no longer the voice of a young aasimar girl but that of a being of ancient and terrible aspect. The walls of the small chamber began to shake under the power of those words. They grew and shifted out, their markings becoming larger as the stones creaked and groaned, grinding under the weight of the room as it continued to grow. Aleena was shrieking in terror, dust from the ceiling mingling with her tears creating muddy streaks down her face, but Tellura continued to intone those terrible words, ignoring the small girls cries.
Then she stopped, the room stilled and became silent. Aleena looked up at Tellura who stood next to her, a hand held out for the young girl. She took Tellura's hand and tried to stand, but lacking the strength fell immediately back to the ground. She tried to look for Tellura, her eyes rolling as waves of dizziness washed over her, but the aasimar girl was gone. Aleena called out to Tellura, as loud as she could, but stopped almost immediately as she realised she made no sound. She reached a small hand up to her ear and, finding it wet and warm, looked at her fingers now smeared in the blood that was leaking from her deafened ears. She began calling out in the silence, engulfed by her fear and sobbed uncontrollably. Tellura's hand fell upon her shoulder for the second time, and holding her gently from behind she began to clean the streaks from her face, to wipe the blood from her ears and neck. Quietly she began to sing, her voice high and soft, a song of golden leaves and winding streams. An old rhyme that Aleena's mother would sing to her when she was afraid of the dark. It was their song - there was no way Tellura could know it, but Aleena was too young to make this realisation as well, relief the primary emotion as she was able to hear the calming tones. She started singing with Tellura and for several minutes they sat there, Aleena nestled in the arms of the young aasimar girl in that impossible room, and sang quietly.
"How are you feeling my love," Tellura asked of Aleena, her voice carrying a hint of both affection and scorn, the fatherly endearment a satisfying epithet for what was to come.
"I...I think I'm OK," she replied, turned to look at Tellura. "I want to leave, it hurts" she pleaded, absently raising her hand to her ringing ear.
"I know, I know. I do too. But there is one thing left to do," she said, pointing across the room to a small stand, upon which rested a golden orb.
Tellura helped Aleena to her feet and began walking across the room leaning heavily upon her crook. Aleena followed close behind, too afraid to look out into the darkness that followed them across the room devouring the pale light that still shone over Tellura's head. They stood before the stand and looked upon the orb. It was made from clear crystal and inside a mist of white gold twisted lazily as if within a mild summer breeze. Tellura looked down at Aleena and smiled at her encouragingly.
"You must take the orb my dear; it is why you are here. Take the orb and hand it to me and we can leave this place."
Aleena nodded to Tellura and let go of her hand to approach the small stand upon which the orb rested. She hesitated briefly before reaching out and taking the orb in both of her small hands. As she lifted it from the stand it began to slowly shrink until it fit comfortably in her palms. Aleena smiled triumphantly, the smile of a child who just won a game, and turned to Tellura, her hands held out offering the orb to her.
Tellura's eyes widened in anticipation; it had been a long road to this moment and here she now stood, at the journeys end. Some small amount of regret passed briefly through her, the hunt was over, and even now in her moment of triumph she felt the loss of that source of amusement. She was old, far older than any mortal could imagine, and there was little left in existence that gave her genuine pleasure anymore. Her brow wrinkled as she cursed silently at herself, at her self indulgence, as she reached down and took the globe from Aleena. The young girl continued to look at Tellura, seeking some approval from the older girl - she did not notice Tellura's fingers lengthen into long bony claws covered in dry sallow skin stretched to breaking point. The aasimar girl gasped as she took the orb, a shallow ripple of cold excitement coursed through her body. She closed her hand over the orb, its light dying behind the veil of her palm, and as she opened her hand the orb was gone, replaced by a beautifully cut and polished ruby. Aleena's eyes lit up at the appearance of the gem, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She looked up at Tellura, her eyes begging to hold the ruby. Tellura smiled and leant down slightly, holding her hand out so that Aleena could take the gem. Taking the ruby from Tellura's hand Aleena gasped at its beauty. Small glints of deep purple light reflected in her eyes as the pale blue light hovering above Tellura met the deep red of the ruby, entranced as she was in its beauty.
"Beautiful isn't it my dear?" asked Tellura, running her finger down Aleena's cheek. "I wonder, do you know what it is?"
Aleena shook her head as she continued to stare intently at the gem.
"It is a key. A key that will open those doors that most would deem best remained closed. I know these doors because I am the one who closed them. But now the time is approaching when they should swing wide and reveal their secrets to all." She paused and looked down at Aleena who was still enraptured by the red jewel which had begun to glow with its own inner light. "Do you know why you are here? Of course not," Tellura continued, answering her own question, "you are in every way the innocence you were destined to be. When I asked your mother the question, that simple question that hides the wonderful and dreadful truth in the hearts of mortals, she answered immediately, and, unlike so many, truthfully." Aleena looked up at Tellura at the mention of her mother, an expression of curiosity upon her face. "I gave your mother her hearts desire, and return she gave me mine, she gave me you my child. The key to the key." A grave smiled grew upon Tellura's face as Aleena took a step back, dropping the ruby to the floor, too afraid to do anything but open her mouth to voice a silent terror. Tellura's voice dropped in pitch dramatically, the mournful croak of a creature unborn, a creature of ancient malevolence, "the beauty in this misery my child is that there are none to ask you the same question, none to ask you 'what is it that you want?' You exist to be taken from my child, it is why you were born, and there is no help for it." She reached forward her hands and placed one each on the sides of Aleena's head, her finger elongating grotesquely into rake-like claws as she clutched the young girls head and drew it to herself. Overwhelmed by what was happening to her, Aleena's eyes rolled back into her skull and she passed into unconsciousness, this one small mercy granted to her by an existence devoid of any hope.
Tellura opened her mouth slightly and moved as if to kiss the young girl, stopping only an inch from her mouth. Exhaling a fetid breath from lungs that did not need air, the aasimar girl who hid more beneath her veil breathed deeply, her mouth opening unnaturally wide. Small globes of glowing light began to form in Aleena's mouth, and, as if caught in the vacuum of Tellura's breath, began floating toward the aasimars mouth. Each glowing light seemed to decay, to rot as it travelled, becoming a tiny sphere of blackness, of corruption. Tellura breathed these motes in as they grew in number and speed rapidly, drawing them into herself. Aleena's skin began to dry, the moisture, the life being sucked from her by the hidden monster, by the corruption dressed in an imperfect suit of innocence. The tiny spheres became a deluge, a torrent of life that swelled and slowly subsided. Tellura drank of the final light and staggered back, dropping the dry husk of Aleena on the ground, her now black and empty eyes staring into nothing. She staggered back several steps, gasping; the rush was incredible! Every fiber of her being was awash in shivering delight, a nexus of rapture. In all the thousands of times she had done this the rush, the ecstasy never diminished. Her head fell back as she embraced the pleasure coursing through her body, the shadow of her hands stretching out, her fingers becoming scythes under the pale light above her. The shadow of her body swelled and grew into an amorphous darkness that writhed with the shapes of long teeth and flailing limbs.
The rush subsided and Tellura dropped to her knees breathless, grimacing as her broken and disfigured leg folded under her unnaturally. Grasping her crook she lifted herself up and slowly walked across to the empty shell that was once Aleena, the key. Discarding her staff she bent down and lifted the child in her arms.
"My sweet child," she whispered, "your work here is not finished. Innocence untouched to enter and innocence despoiled to leave."
Again she leaned in, close to Aleena's mouth, her lips now shrivelled and parched, her teeth broken and blackened shards. She opened her mouth and exhaled deeply, reversing the process from only moments before. Small blackened motes dripping with poison floated from her and into Aleena's mouth. The young girl's eyes snapped open as she gasped, breathing in the corruption pouring forth from Tellura. Her skin began to smooth back into its former shape, the appearance of life returning to her body. As she breathed the last of the floating darkness Tellura set her to the ground where she stood looking up at the aasimar girl. She was an imitation of her former self; her skin a cold dark grey and her eyes pitiless pools of darkness under ashen hair, a newly formed key and yet so much more. Tellura held out her hand to Aleena, offering her the ruby they had come here to possess.
"This is for you my love," spoke Tellura. "Take it now, for it belongs to you."
"Thank you father-mother," replied the young girl, a sense of awe in her voice as she took the stone from her creator's hand.
Tellura smiled down at the girl, "come now Aleena/Amon," she pronounced both names simultaneously, "it is time for us to leave this place." She held out her hand, and Aleena/Amon placed her own in it.
Pausing only for Tellura to retrieve her crook they turned and walked back away from the stand that was once the home of the golden orb. "It feels like there is much to do father-mother," said Aleena/Amon.
Tellura smiled at her child's new insight, "indeed there is my child, indeed there is."
They walked away hand in hand, the shadow of the young girls hand grew upon the walls, fingers elongating into deformed needles in imitation of her creator as they disappeared into a swollen curtain of sickly green light.