(noon – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
Happy Staturday and welcome to the Dog’s serialization of the novel Dark Soul. This is a work in progress, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, don’t be shy about offering them up.
If you have just started reading this, you can find chapters one through three at the following links:
This serializartion is only available here at Docudharma!
The small troupe had made good time. The horses seemed to be energized by the approaching storm. As soon as they had cleared the tree line, they where all caught in a breathless kind of wind.
The wind was warm and wet. It smelled of far off fields and woods, a moist green smell. It was filled with the smell of lightning and rain; wind and rivers; mud and stone; leaves and broken branches. It was a smell the lifted the heart with joyful possibilities and at the same time that it quickened it with vague fear.
With the feeling of boundless energy that such a wind can give, both man and beast pushed on toward their goal, the high pass into the valley of the Celesta. But flesh has it’s limits, try as they might, they could not out run the rushing storm. Even as they came within sight of the pass, the eves of the storm were upon them.
It started subtly, with the a few high fast clouds scudded by overhead, clearly headed for an appointment far from there. Then the wind that had been so friendly, started to turn cold, gusting and blowing from odd directions. Bursts of fat rain drops struck the riders from odd angles, blowing in through the front of their cloaks. The lightning had not arrived yet, but the scene ahead was lit by the near constant flickering of the storm behind them.
The Shadow signaled for the group to stop a few hundred yards from the opening of the pass. The horses were stamping and blowing, eager to continue, if only to be away from this storm. The Shadow pulled the map from out of his cloak and studied it while the other two caught their breath.
“Well, I hope that this is it,” he said as he returned the map to its resting place. “It is not as though we have much choice now. We will have to go into that gap and hope it shelters us, even if we are wrong about it leading to the valley.” As if it were somehow paying attention to what was being said, the storm took this moment to unleash its fury.
Sheets of rain could be seen walking up the mountainside toward the men. In seconds they were soaked to the skin. Harsh winds slammed against them and below lightning stabbed the forest. As bad as this was, each man knew that is was the start, rather than the climax of this storm. Without conversation the three turned and headed for the canyon.
Even though they were less than a mile from the entrance, the storm made progress nigh on impossible. All of the energy that had been keeping the tiered horses going was now sucked away, with interest. The howling wind brought sheets of cold hard rain slamming into the group, wetting them to the bone in moments. There is nothing more dispiriting than being cold and wet, unless it is being cold, wet and knowing that there is no hope to change either of the first two, any time soon.
The Shadow had burned the location of the canyon entrance into his memory before the storm had struck. This was a good idea, as now he could hardly see two yards ahead. With indomitable will he guided Orobasson upward to the canyon. There were little streams flowing down the open rock, turning any crack or crevasse into a raging stream. The Shadow was confident that Orobasson would find his footing, no mater the conditions, but the other two horses were not of demonic decent and a fall now would be disastrous.
As soon as Orobasson had all four feet set firmly on rock, the Shadow halted him and started to dig in his saddle bag. Finding the rope that he was looking for, he looked up trying to make out his companions through the rain. After a moment or two, just when the Shadow had decided to go back after them, two figures resolved themselves in the driving rain.
Tyrone rode in front, scowling fiercely into the rain. Around his waist, a stout rope, tied in a slip knot, lead out behind him to end around the waist of the priest. The Shadow quickly tied his own rope to the saddle horn and then waved both arms over his head to attract Tyrone’s attention.
The young Irishman rode up next to the Shadow, and grinned at the rope around his waist. “Well, it seems that great minds think alike, eh?” he shouted through the wind.
“At least ours do,” the Shadow shouted back, handing Tyrone the end of his rope. “But it seems a shame to lose one of us on this fine evening ride.” At this Tyrone gave a smile full of teeth and looked up the slope, to where he hoped the canyon entrance was.
“How, much further, do you think?” Tyrone asked leaning close to the Shadow.
“Hard to say, but at a guess, less than an eighth of a league, but it will seem much further,” replied the Shadow. Then he turned and urged Orobasson forward, confident that he would at least not lose the other two now.
True to the Shadow’s prediction, the distance to the entrance seemed far more like twenty leagues, than the eighth it really was. Tyrone was just beginning to wonder if they had gone astray, when a huge gray wall rose up in front of the travelers. The Shadow only paused a second and then turned his little train to the left, riding close to the wall. After a few paces, a gap appeared in the wall, and they had found the entrance to the pass.
As the Shadow looked along the floor of the canyon, lightning obligingly flickered over head, lighting the gap with a stuttering set of frozen images. The canyon floor was level, but anything but flat. In the flickering light, the Shadow could see puddles, holes, and piles of rock as far into the canyon as the rain allowed. Orobasson might be able to negotiate the treacherous terrain, but there was no chance that the other two horses would, they would have to dismount and lead them.
The Shadow swung off his horse, and motioned the other two to do the same. There was a near disaster as Brother Carlinus started to dismount, without untying the rope that bound him to Tyrone. Luckily, his mare shied before he could get down, and that pulled on the rope enough for him to remember that he was connected to someone else.
Once Brother Carlinus untied, and gratefully slid to the ground. This was the most exercise he had done in his life, and it seemed that every part of his body had a unique way of expressing it’s displeasure. He groaned aloud, knowing that the rain would cover the sound. This was one of the few times that Carlinus allowed himself to do this, since the other two never seemed to feel the hard pace of travel. He felt he had to keep up with Tyrone, to set an example for his miniscule flock, and as for the Shadow, well, he was at a big enough disadvantage physically that he had no intention of making it look as big as it was. No, indeed, it would be a hot day in Heaven before Carlinus showed weakness to that demon spawn!
Having caught his breath, Carlinus grabbed the reins of his horse and walked into the pass, toward the other two. As he entered the pass the wind, that had been constantly battering him slacked, cut off by the high narrow walls. This in no way lessoned the impact of the rain which still fell, but it did relive half of the misery of the storm.
Brother Carlinus looked around as he walked. The walls of the pass were no more than fifteen feet apart and climbed nearly vertically above him. The nearly constant lightning showed the rough broken surface of the walls running with water. In places where a shelf interrupted the rock face, small water falls could be seen, adding a solid sheet of water to the big rain drops. The top of the pass could not be seen clearly even with the actinic light provided by the storm, just a vague line where it seemed that the rock ended and the storm began.
As he walked up, Carlinus could see Tyrone and the Shadow conferring in the lee of the Shadow’s enormous and terrifying horse. Having no desire to get any closer to the demonic creature, Carlinus shouted “So, what now?”
Tyrone and the Shadow looked up, and Carlinus thought that he could read contempt on their faces. Why was it that they never gave him the respect that he deserved?
“We are going to walk the horses through the pass,” shouted Tyrone, “It is too dangerous to ride. You take the middle position; I’ll bring up the rear.”
Brother Carlinus nodded his understanding, and waited for the Shadow to move out. As their party started to move away into the pass, Carlinus started to number his miseries. It was an old habit of his, when he had to do something physical that did not really require any thought.
He started with being in the middle, feeling rightly, that the other two did not trust him to lead or cover the rear. While this would have been a good grudge to nurse, the weather really was too impressive to ignore. So Carlinus turned his mental complaints to the water pouring from the sky, the brightness of the lightning, the coldness of his drenched clothes.
This line of thinking actually lead to a silver lining of sorts, just as Carlinus was getting a good grumble on about his wet hair and skin, he realized that this drenching would have washed off all of the Shadow’s blood. He had done it! He had survived the danger of possession unscathed! Ha! That for the magic of the ungodly!
Brother Carlinus was starting to smile into the pouring rain, basking in the warm glow of self-congratulation, when he became aware that the Shadow had come to a stop. Ahead of the foul demon-spawn was a towering wall of rock. The wall to the left, suddenly turned to become the wall ahead. To the right, a pile of stone, sloping out from the wall. After all of their trouble it was really more then Carlinus could take.
“NO! NO, no!” he shouted into the storm, “This can not be happening!” He mood plummeted, and was all the worse for having been so high in the first place.
“What’s going on?” asked Tyrone as he joined the other two.
“Carlinus is yelling,” said the Shadow laconically. There was a huge burst of lightning and all of the men could see that what they thought was a dead end, was really a turn. The pile of rocks covered the turn, but was not so high as to be impassable.
“I think we have found the entrance to the Celesta’s valley, after all,” said the Shadow to Carlinus, “You remember that sharp turn on the map? Well, I can’t imagine that there are two such passes in these mountains. Be careful crossing these rocks” Without waiting for a reply the Shadow lead Orobasson up and over the rock hill.
Tyrone walked up and put his hand on Carlinus’s shoulder. He looked into the priest’s eyes, and said quietly, “Brother Carlinus, I know you are tired and it is easy to get over wrought, but we need you to keep your wits about you. It will not be that long until we are out of this pass and can stop to camp. Can you make it until then?”
Carlinus wanted to say something harsh, but the highs and lows of the last few minutes made him see that Tyrone was right; he was very tired.
“I can, as long as it is not too much longer. I am not as strong as the two of you, you know.”
“Ach, well it is a wise man that knows his boundaries, Brother. Stay alert and this will be over soon,” said Tyrone in a kind tone. “Now, over you go. And do watch it, those rocks look treacherous.”
Carlinus felt ridiculously grateful for the encouragement, but decided that he would earn the modicum of respect that Tyrone was offering by being as diligent and alert as possible. As it turned out, it was a good thing that both the Shadow and Tyrone had warned him about the pile of stones. Carlinus needed all of his concentration to get himself and Elys over the rocks. Between the slope of the pile, both up and down, and the rain, it was like walking over moss covered stones in a nearly dry creek bed. At last though, Brother Carlinus stood on the relatively flat stone of the pass waiting with the Shadow for Tyrone to repeat the feat that they had just completed.
Tyrone did not have any trouble with the stones, but his charger stumbled and nearly fell on the way down the rocks. As the two of them started down the far side of the pile, the weight of the war horse caused a shifting in the stone throwing the beast off balance. It was only Tyrone’s great strength and quick reflexes kept them from disaster, with the roles being reversed, and the man supporting the horse, if only briefly. As they stepped out on to solid ground, Tyrone gave a gusty sigh and said with raised eyebrows, ” I thought I was going to wind up under Julius here, no lie”
“Well, we are past that trial, at least,” said Brother Carlinus, “With a little luck, the rest of this passage will be easier than the last. Look, we are at the top, the way slopes downward from here,” he said pointing to the passage.
“I don’t know about luck, but at least the turn has given us a little shelter from the wind,” said the Shadow. All of the men looked up to the right hand wall, that was now providing a wind break and even stopping some of the falling rain. The very idea of being out of the direct path of the storm was enough to bring thin smiles to the lips of the tiered men.
“Okay, fellows,” said Tyrone with false cheer, “let’s push on. I for one, intend to sleep before the dawn, and not in this pass. Thank you very much!” The Shadow’s brow knotted, wondering just who Tyrone was trying to convince, but since he agreed with the sentiment, he turned and lead Orobasson along the pass towards the Celesta.
They started out again, Brother Carlinus taking the middle as usual. As they walked along all of the men drifted to the right, walking as close to the wall as they could to take advantage of the shelter it provided from the wind and rain. It was a balancing act, the wall did break the wind, but water was still falling on the top of the canyon, which caused small waterfalls to form unpredictably. So while walking right next to the wall would protect you from the wind, it might subject you to a sudden drenching in cold water. As they progressed, each man had this lesson taught to him more than once, accompanied by oaths, swear words or dire critics, depending on who was receiving this knowledge at the time.
After nearly an hour of this the canyon started to widen and the downward slope was more pronounced. And though these changes made the travel more difficult, it did lift the sprits of the travelers, to no longer be in a slot through the mountain. The storm however, had not slacked in intensity, but it had changed in character. Where it had been a thing of mostly wind and rain with some lightning, now the balance had shifted away from the rain and toward the lighting.
The traveler’s way had been lit by the storms light more and more frequently as they walked on. With the widening of the pass and the downward slope, the men could see into the valley ahead of them, as well as the pass around them as the storm flashed and fumed. Now the bolts where no longer content to flash amongst the clouds, instead they found targets on the ground as well as the air. One particularly massive bolt streaked from the sky to a hill one or two leagues off, blasting the crown even as it provided the light to view the devastation it caused. That light also had the added effect of outlining the place where the pass walls stopped, giving way to the valley they had been searching for.
Without comment nor discussion, the travelers increased their pace, eager to leave the pass. Tyrone, his eyes focused on the goal, did not watch where he was putting his feet, and stepped in a small hole. With his warrior training and reflexes, he nearly avoided falling, but the long flight from the wolves, the ride to the pass, the huge storm, and no sleep all conspired to bring him down. With a cry, he fell to the ground his ankle twisting in the process. Both his cry and Julius’s startled snort alerted the Shadow that something was wrong. His sudden stop and turn did the same for Brother Carlinus.
As he turned Carlinus could barley make out the man and horse behind him, then there was a cloud searing flash, and Tyrone and Julius were revealed, the war horse standing protectively above his master. The Shadow passed by Carlinus, on his way to help. Carlinus dropped Elys’s reins and followed.
By the time they arrived, Tyrone had pushed himself to a sitting position, with his back against the wall of the pass. He was leaning forward to message his ankle, but was having trouble as his horse, worried for it’s master tried to find what had caused him to fall, kept nosing him in the chest.
“Are you all right?” asked the Shadow as he came up.
“Ach, I stepped in hole and did for my ankle, I think. Damn it Juli! Will you get your big nose out of my face!” said Tyrone. Carlinus knew that this was this outburst was not a good sign. In the entire time that he had known Tyrone, Carlinus had never heard him utter anything but kind and encouraging words to his horse. That he would now yell and push at the animal as it tried to comfort him, mean that his injury was worse then he had let on.
“Ahh, here, let me take him to visit with Elys,” said the monk diving in to grab the chargers reins. “There, we are big fellow, let walk over here and let these two talk a little, okay?” As Carlinus lead Julius away, he gave the Shadow a significant look. The Shadow nodded and knelt next to Tyrone.
“Here now, lean back, let me look at that,” the Shadow said pushing Tyrone’s hands away from the hurt leg. “Did you hear or feel anything break?”
“No, but with the wind and this damnable thunder, who would?”
The Shadow began to work his hands down Tyrone’s calf, pressing firmly, looking for any sign that the leg or ankle was broken. As he got to the joint itself, Tyrone stiffened and let out a sharp hiss. “Sorry, Ty, I need to move it around, and it is going to hurt,” the Shadow said without looking up.
“Save the apologies, just finish what you are doing,” said Tyrone through gritted teeth.
The Shadow followed his friend’s instruction and wasted no time in testing the ankles range of motion. He did his best to ignore the intakes of breath as he moved Tyrone’s foot in a circle trying to feel if there was any bone grinding against bone. After a few minutes of this, he set the leg down. Taking a deep breath the Shadow said, “Well, good news is that Irish bones are too damn tough for the holes in these mountains. Bad news is; you have well and truly sprained you leg. I don’t know how long before you will be able to walk, though.”
“That is about what I thought, “replied Tyrone “I guess you will just have to help me, and Carli will have to deal with the horses. At least it is not too far to the valley, eh?”
“You know, Ty, you will find the good in anything, even a shit pile” said the Shadow shaking his head in disbelief.
“Well, now, that is comes from being Irish, you know?” said the warrior with a lopsided smile, “Our island is so cloudy, we have to make our own sunshine!”
“Sit there for you moment, you fool, I’ll get Carli going. You are going to have to hold Orobasson’s reins you know. There is no way my horse is going to let our little priest lead him that is for damn sure.” As the Shadow turned down the pass, Tyrone let his brave face slip. He knew from long experience that there was nothing they could do for his leg until they reached the shelter of the valley, and having the Shadow worry more at this point did not serve any purpose. As he leaned more heavily against the rock wall, he thought about how completely happy he would be to be out of this pass.
The lightning was now coming in eye-searing, stuttering, bursts, making the Shadow squint, and then leaving him in total darkness for a time stretched moment that made him worry of stepping in a hole, himself. As he came up to where Brother Carlinus was standing with the horses he could see that the priest for genuinely concerned about Tyrone.
“So? Is his leg broken?” asked Brother Carlinus before the Shadow could speak a word.
“No, not broken, but he won’t be able to walk on it for a while. We need you to lead Elys and Julius; I’ll take Orobasson and Tyrone. Once we get out of this pass, we can find some kind of shelter, and then we will all rest. I think we have earned it, don’t you?”
“That we have Shadow, that we all have,” said Brother Carlinus. The Shadow merely nodded and headed back towards Tyrone, leaving Carlinus to figure out how he would get the two horses in his charge past the part demon Orobasson.
As Brother Carlinus gathered the reins of the two horses next to him, and the Shadow trudged back up the pass, a clock that none of them knew was ticking ran out.
Near the turn of the pass, atop the western wall a small event happened that would have dire consequences. Since the storm had begun a long wide trench at the top of the wall had been filling with water. It took quite a long time, but eventually, the trench filled to overflowing and water ran down the cliff face the same as other places along the pass. Unfortunately the rock that comprised western side of the pass was not completely solid, and the weight of the water began to force it’s way through the very stone.
What began as an innocent one or two drips on the already wet stone soon gave way to a thin streams of water jetting out from the wall. The pressure behind these jets began to carve through the stone faster and faster. The tiny holes became cracks and grew both toward each other and up the face of the cliff, where water from the top of the overflowing trench ran into them, increasing the pace of their progress through the rock.
At first it was just one or two small stones falling away from the wall. Soon more, bigger stones also fell away, leaving behind holes from which more water poured. One minute there was a wall with water gushing from cracks, then next, a surging mass of water and stone, thirty feet high and nearly a half mile long falling to the floor of the pass and rushing along the downward slope.
The water falling into the pass and helped by the rocks that had held it back filled the pass to a height of two yards. The weight of the water pushed the rocks along the floor of the pass, and scooped up every other item in it’s way. Under any other conditions the sound of the wall giving way and the resulting tumult would have alerted any one within miles of the pass that something terrible had occurred.
Of course, no one standing in a storm like that could possibly be expected to notice the difference between the sound of thunder and the rumble of thousands of tons of water, rocks and dirt. So time that could have been spent getting to safety was instead used to check the condition of an ankle, to communicate the plan to a fellow traveler and to walk back to the injured party.
The first indication that the Shadow had that some thing was wrong was a small vibration in felt through the soles of his feet. Looking down he could see the water puddles jumping, but there was no reason apparent for this strange action. As he looked up the storm provided him with a view of the on-rushing doom.
A wall of water taller than the top of his head, the front covered with a froth of dirty foam stretching away as far as he could see. As the Shadow stood frozen, trying to understand what it was he was watching, rocks the size of his torso could be seen jumping above the surface and crashing back into the water. In the seconds that he watched the water came noticeably closer.
“Oh, no,” he said under his breath. Then turning back to Carlinus he yelled, “Carlinus! Run! Get the horses and go!”
To the priest’s credit, he did not stop to ask if why the Shadow commanded him, though the wall of water filling the pass might have helped. He tightened his grip on the reins of the two horses and turned purposefully toward the valley. Walking forward he immediately ran into a problem, Orobasson. Not only did he now have responsibility for his and Tyrone’s mounts, but now needed to be sure that the Shadow’s got safely out of the pass as well. The fact that the giant animal hated Carlinus, and was blocking most of the pass, did not help matters at all.
He tired shouting, the beast merely turned it’s glowing red eye’s toward him, and gave a disdainful snort. He tried walking purposefully ahead, but the creature held it’s ground and bared it’s awful pointed teeth. Knowing that there was no time to loose but being out of ideas Brother Carlinus whispered a small prayer, “Lord, what am I to do with this devil beast?”
To Brother Carlinus’s surprise, Orobasson took a step backwards. Not sure what had happened, Carlinus said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord”. Again the part demon horse took a step backwards. Now sure of his course, Brother Carlinus aimed a quick thank you to the sky, and began to recite the Lords Payer in a firm loud voice. Orobasson fretted and tossed his huge head, but stated to turn and walk to the end of the pass.
Brother Carlinus, wearing a fierce smile and praying for the first time in days, lead and drove his charges, faster and faster, trying very hard not to think about the water that he could now hear rushing towards him. With hair on his neck standing up, and the feeling that a monster is just about to grab you from behind, which nearly overwhelmed Carlinus as he finally ran out of the mouth of the pass and into the valley of the Celesta.
As soon as the demon-charger reached the valley, he had turned to the left still trying to avoid the prayers of Brother Carlinus. The priest followed, keeping as close to the wall as he could with two horses following behind. He stopped praying, and watched to be sure that Orobasson would not try to run back into the pass to help his master. The rumble of water that Carlinus had been trying to ignore intensified and brought his attention back to the mouth of the pass. As he looked a combination of water, dirt and stone exploded out of the pass.
The Shadow did not wait to see if Carlinus would follow instructions, he would or he would not, but there was no time for him to try to influence that outcome. The Shadow had only two goals now, to get to Tyrone, and then to get them both out of the pass before the flood hit. He gave himself a one in three chance, but he intended to do everything that could to beat that chance.
Running as fast as he could the Shadow focused on where Tyrone sat, narrowing the world to that first goal. As he arrived he found Tyrone had pushed himself up to stand on one foot while leaning back against the wall. There was no need for conversation, Tyrone had seen the coming flood and was ready to make for the mouth of the pass.
The Shadow slid his arm around Tyrone’s waste on the same side as his injured leg. Tyrone put his arm across the Shadow’s shoulders, so now they stood like runners in a three-legged race. One look into Tyrone’s eyes to make sure he was ready and they took off.
Using as much of his arm strength as he could, the Shadow tried to keep Tyrone from putting the bad leg down, and make as fast a run as they could. It only took a few strides for them to fall into a rhythm. Once that was achieved their speed picked up quite a bit. So focused on their task where the two men, that their very breath fell into time, both men’s chests heaving.
Through the flashing light, the mouth of the pass could be seen, not more than twenty yards away. Again the Shadow’s world narrowed focusing desperately on that goal, that safe haven. While he was pushing with every ounce of strength he had, this time it would not be enough.
The first sign that they were not going to make it came with the sudden realization that he was running in calf deep water. This was enough to break the Shadows concentration. Now he could hear the deafening roar of the water, directly behind him. Making the decision to try to save Tyrone, if not himself, the Shadow took a deep step, in preparation for throwing Tyrone toward the entrance of the pass. Before the Shadow could even set his feet, the flood was upon him.
Foam and water grabbed both men from behind and lifted them up from the floor of the pass. The Shadow tried to hang on to Tyrone’s waist, but his strength was nothing compared to that of the flood. Desperately trying to stay upright, the Shadow was tossed by the water, with small rocks hitting his arms and legs, the roar of the flood filling his world. Just then he thought that he had gained some control, his head breaking clear of the top of the water. But it was really just a cruel trick. Just as the Shadow was getting his bearings, the water slammed him head first into the wall and he knew nothing but blackness.