Echoes of Dark Reflections
Part Five – False Memories
“Time to get up, Qosa.”
Nhaqosa woke to the comforting sound of his father’s voice. As his eyes opened, he could see the ceiling of his room, and could smell around him the familiar, reassuring scents of his parents’ house. For a fragment of a moment a strange sensation swept over him, a dichotomy of experiences, of memories of being enclosed in ice, or burning suns beating down on blood stained sands, distant and fading in the waking hours. He rubbed at sleepy eyes and shook his head. They were dreams, no more, like many others he had had before, these ones brought on by the events of the previous day. In the hills beyond the village, a terrible storm had set in and he had become lost. His solid, dependable father had found him and carried him home.
This is not how it was.
The words rolled through his mind like fire and for a moment he hesitated. Then, shrugging, he pushed them aside. Just a dream, he reminded himself. No more than that.
He pulled himself from his bed, his crippled right arm curled up against his body and hobbled from the room on his twisted right leg.
His father waited for him in the kitchen, towering over the young Nhaqosa. A pendant Nhaqosa didn’t remember hung around his father’s neck, one of black crystal set against his father’s grey hide.
“I am off to the quarries,” he told Nhaqosa, patting the young minotaur on the head between barely budding horns. “You behave yourself for your mother out in the fields today. Don’t go wandering off again. There are still storms about.”
“I want to go with you,” Nhaqosa protested.
His father’s ears twitched and his face tightened with an old, well worn sadness. “We have spoken of this, Qosa,” he said gently. “You know why it can’t be so.”
Nhaqosa knew, and knew well; those like him, the weak and crippled, could never be a worker of stone in the quarries, nor a warrior. They worked the fields, helping the women and children and infirm.
You did work the quarries though. Nhaqosa winced as the words burned through his mind. You were a warrior, and more. A leader.
Unbidden, a word came to him. Kwaza. “But I am to be Kwaza, father, like you,” he stated.
“Qosa, you can never be Kwaza.”
A crushing despair settled upon him and pain flared in his crippled limbs, dragging him down.
But you are. Ignore all this. It is not real. Remember. Remember.
Nhaqosa looked down at the hated, crippled arm and leg that had held him back his whole life, had denied him his true place in the culture of the tribe. An image appeared in his mind, of straight limbs and strength, the memory of how it should be, not how it appeared. The memory of how it was. Slowly he straightened out the arm that curled up against his side, willing strength into it. Terrible, indescribable pain tore through his body as muscles knotted stiff, beginning to tear as they resisted his effort. He threw back his head and howled, tears streaming from his eyes but he did not relent, forcing his limb to comply.
The world began to spin about him, vision darkening from the burning pain that pounded at him, throbbed through his mind. His mind, his memories shattered under the strain of it all, and as sight came back to him, he found himself not in the house of his parents but in a small room within the dark crystal tower once more. Bands of crystal were tight about him, fastening him to the wall at wrists and ankles and waist.
He bellowed with rage and flexed his iron-hard muscles, his limbs returned to their true form. The crystal bands shattered under the effort and he half fell from the wall to the ground. Straightening himself up, he looked around. He was alone in the room, his friends and companions nowhere to be seen. Neither was his maul, the weapon he had carried through many years.
An open doorway led out of the room. He stepped out, into a curving corridor, leading off to both his left and right. With no clues as to where either direction would take, nor where in the tower he was, he randomly chose the right and began to head down the corridor. A deep anger raged within him, cold fury at what had been done to him, fed by the fear of what might be happening to his friends.
A few metres along from the room that he had been imprisoned in, he came across an open doorway that led into another room. Looking into it, Nhaqosa saw a body lying slumped on the floor, one blackened by fire. Hurrying in, Nhaqosa moved to the body. As he neared, it became readily apparent that whoever it had been, they were not a member of his band.
The body belonged to a giant of a man, one who stood as tall as Nhaqosa himself, and just as heavily built. He had been badly burned, his head hairless and his flesh blackened and cracked. Armour unlike any Nhaqosa had seen before encased the body, a full suit that left almost no part of him unprotected. The flames that had devoured the man had warped and blackened the armour, fusing it to his body in parts. Heat still radiated from the figure, and across the surface of the armour, beneath the soot and ash, burning sigils and symbols twisted and flowed in ever changing patterns. The hilt of a giant sword remained gripped in a gauntleted hand.
Unexpected, eyes open from in the burnt face, eyes that glowed like molten iron. The figure rose slowly to his feet, the air around him becoming hazy with heat. Nhaqosa cautiously backed away, eyes focused on the burnt giant, ready to react to any danger.
“You are free,” the giant said, a voice that echoed familiar to Nhaqosa. “Good. There is little time left.”
Nhaqosa hesitated, uncertain as to the intentions of the giant. “Who are you?” he asked finally, guardedly.
“Veqtos of the Talsahra. Come, the lives of your friends are still in danger. We must hurry if we are to save them.”
Not waiting for a reply, Veqtos strode from the chamber, with Nhaqosa following after him. Down the corridor the burnt giant and the minotaur advanced, passing other small rooms, all of which they found empty when they looked within.
Then they came upon one which was not. A body with dark braided hair sprawled across the ground; Telata. His body twisted and broken, he lay dead, blood seeping from ears and nose, mouth and eyes. Nhaqosa tossed back his head and bellowed with rage and anger and loss, the sound echoing through the chambers and corridors.
Veqtos knelt down beside the body. “Whatever it was that did this, he fought it,” he told Nhaqosa. “His nails are torn and knuckles bruised. There is dark blood here as well, blood that is not from a human.”
“What is going on here?” Nhaqosa asked.
“Something dark. There is a thing that dwells in this place, a monster that lures victims in. It toys with them, trying to break them to its will. In time all who enter here die, or worse.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“It has not yet broken me, but no, the way that I am is not of its doing. It is the burden of all my people.”
“I can feel the heat coming from you. Is there not pain?”
“Always, constant, but you have to live with it. You must as there is no other choice. Some can, others go mad. But that is of little concern for now.”
A flash of insight came to Nhaqosa, a nagging question answered. “It was you, wasn’t it? In my head while I was experiencing those visions, or whatever they were.”
“False memories, designed to break your sense of will. It would have taken more than that to get to you though. All I did was merely nudge you along.”
“The others, the same will be happening to them as well?”
“Yes. We all do.”
“Then how do we end it?”
“We must find the spider at the centre of this web,” Veqtos told him. “And then we must burn it out.”
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