Posted on August 16, 2010


This story is Part 15 of the series Fire and Water. It follows Divergence. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

When they drew near the eastern edge of the plains country, they stopped and spent a few days preparing for what lay ahead. They hunted, fished, and gathered edible plants, stockpiling for the next stage of the journey. Already they were seeing barren patches like blotchy scabs on the earth.

One afternoon during their preparations, Findol stood at the edge of a barren patch, studying it. He had never seen anything so devoid of life. Yet underneath the dead earth, he sensed something almost familiar, something he could not place.

He felt the onset of Griel’s voice as the scale grew warm. Anticipating the disorientation that affected him whenever Griel spoke, he sat down beside the patch. He was careful not to touch it, as though it might burn him if he did.

“Why do I feel I know this waste? I’ve never seen such… such emptiness.”

It is the Nurain’s work, as you know. Yet they had to make use of what was available to build this prison.

“What was available… you mean they changed the very nature of this ground. They manipulated it to suit their purposes.”

It is the nature of everything in Vael to flow and change, like fire and water, and to create new forms, new beings. All things in Vael work in concert to create, and through this cooperation, this creating, do we thrive. We have never used this creative power to destroy.

Now look with more than your eyes, look with everything you are at this waste, and tell me what you see.

Findol gazed at the naked patch of ground and felt his vision engulf him. Suddenly, as it did the day he first saw Zaghran approaching Lualor, his sight rose out of his body to hover above the spot.

He discovered he could see past its surface down into the earth. He could taste the discordant power that transformed it. Behind and beneath him, his body felt it as though cold metal scraped his skin. He heard the curse of the prison as a shrill hum that vibrated throughout his entire being. It threatened to shake him apart into fragments that would never find each other again.

Enough! Griel’s voice pierced the hum like lightning, and Findol slammed back into his body, gasping and retching. He fell back, sprawling on the ground, and the scale jerked up to land on his forehead. Its heat filled his head, and he lost consciousness.

He awoke to see Zaghran and Aurmid beside him. Zaghran shook him, and Aurmid butted him with her snout. Findol groaned and sat up. The scale slipped down to his chest again.

“There you are.” Zaghran’s voice was concerned and relieved at once.

“What were you thinking, Findol Grey?” Aurmid demanded. “If my father had been unable to extract you, you would have been lost to us.”

“He… I…” Findol’s head was whirling. “I wanted… I tried to see how the prison was made.”

“My father only told you to look, not to enter it. You were foolish. You must not attempt such a thing alone again.”

Findol raised a trembling hand to stroke Aurmid’s snout.

“You… you can rest assured that I won’t.” He looked at Zaghran with new understanding. Zaghran smiled.

“I could have told you how their prisons work. But perhaps it was useful for you to experience it for yourself, if only for a moment. Now your whole being knows firsthand what we are up against.”

“They… they use the elements of Vael itself. And there is a noise… it rips those elements apart.” Findol shuddered. His eyes went wide. He hauled himself to his feet.

“I think…” he began, and faltered.

“Go on, Findol Grey. Tell us what you have discovered.”

“It’s only a wild thought, and I don’t know how we’ll do it,” Findol went on. “They wouldn’t make the same prison for everyone. They would tailor it to each prisoner to make it harder to break. And Griel’s voice was able to pull me back because this one wasn’t made for me, but for Sulinor. It’s something to do with that horrible noise. Somehow, we must disrupt or silence that hum so that Sulinor’s essence, which it contains, can reassemble itself.”

“And perhaps Griel was able to free me because he had a part, however small, in putting me there to begin with,” Zaghran said. “Though the effort he spent releasing me is probably what killed him.”

Findol’s shoulders slumped.

“I get the feeling poor Griel is trapped in this scale,” he sighed. “I wish I could find a way to release him. We’ll need him when we attempt to free Sulinor, and I can’t hold him and myself at once.”

“It occurs to me that Jal could see no entrance to Sulinor’s prison because there isn’t one,” Zaghran said. “She’s everywhere beneath the prison, within it, scattered. I know what that is like. But the sound must have a source. If we can find the source, perhaps we can find a way to stop it.”

Findol shook his head, frowning.

“No… it isn’t that simple. The wastes– I feel I know them somehow. I think I know why.” He closed his eyes, recalling his brief fall into Sulinor’s prison. When he looked at them again, his eyes were dark as a storm over the sea. “The sound doesn’t come from outside. It’s a part of the being who is imprisoned. It’s as though the Nurain can manipulate a being’s own voice, the essence of its own life… they can take that and make it vibrate in such an unnatural way… in a pattern that belongs to them, not to Vael–”

“That it drains the magic even while it is trapped. The essence seeks to go on creating, but it can only repeat one false note, and so is trapped by its own need to flow. It cannot move, it cannot change. It cannot create. It can only express the pattern overlaid on it.” Zaghran shuddered at his own words. He knelt beside the sterile patch.

“Sulinor,” he breathed. “What unspeakable torture this must be for you. ”

Findol laid a hand on Zaghran’s shoulder.

“We’ll free her,” he said, and looked into Aurmid’s golden eyes. “We need Griel. I have to find a way to get him out of this scale.”

“He will tell us how he managed to free Zaghran. Then we will use his knowledge to free Sulinor in a way that will not end us.” Aurmid growled with anticipation.

Then we will end the Nurain forevermore. Griel’s voice was grim and certain.