Authors: David Alastair Hayden
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy
Storm Phase Book Five
David Alastair Hayden
Copyright © 2016 by David Alastair Hayden
All Rights Reserved
Version 1.0 | February 2016
Cover illustration by Leos Ng “Okita”
Graphic Design by Pepper Thorn
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is body felt no pain. But his soul burned.
Kneeling in meditation, he took up the entire far corner of the large bedroom. His tail, made from an enchanted bamboo cable with a spiked steel ball on the end, curled around him.
To say Motekeru was frightening was an understatement. His artificial body consisted of petrified oak, reinforced with bronze plates on his arms, legs, and chest. His joints, like his skeleton, were made from the finest steel, as were the claws that could extend from his hands. His head was bronze-plated with a jagged mouth. His eyes were likewise malformed, slanting at an extreme angle and curling on the ends. Flames blazed continuously within the empty sockets.
Chonda Lu had done his best to make him suffer and to turn him into a monster, and not just physically. Some might think that having hellfire continuously burning his soul would drive him into madness. But Motekeru was stronger than that. Besides, after a few centuries you become used to pain, no matter how intense.
No, the true torture was being trapped in this crude, artificial body, unable to interact with the physical world, except in the most limited ways. He could never again feel the cold patter of raindrops on his skin, or smell snow in the winter air, or lick sticky sweet fruit juice from his fingers. And while all around him others enjoyed those simple pleasures, he could only remember them. That was the true pain. And two thousand years had yet to dull its sting.
“You know, I can actually feel you brooding.”
Motekeru cocked his head to the side and studied the fifteen-year-old girl he frequently watched over. She had once been a dainty, baojendari girl with sparkling blue eyes and soft features. Now, she was tall and muscular—as large as most baojendari men. Thin, violet veins webbed her angular face. Her purple eyes matched the bruise-colored star on her forehead. Both stood out prominently against her exceedingly pale skin. And her bald head only accented her purplish features.
The loss of her hair was the only part of her appearance that wasn't due to the Warlock’s corrupting influence. She had lost most of it while she was helping Turesobei learn to control the Storm Dragon. Afterward, she had decided to shave it all off rather than letting the burned spots fill back in.
At the edge of the tub, Awasa stood dripping wet and naked, except for Fangthorn, the menacing, rune-carved, black-steel sword which was strapped to her back. A bruise-colored glimmer, like a ghostly amethyst gem, hovered in the empty space on the pommel where Lady Hannya's ruby kavaru had resided when she had been bound in the sword.
Truthfully, Awasa didn’t need watching over anymore. Thanks to extensive training in mudra magic and meditation with Lady Hannya, Awasa was now fully in control of herself—provided she kept Fangthorn nearby. Without it, the purple in her features would darken, malevolent power would surge through her, and the Warlock's taint would poison her mind with anger and hatred. That was why the first thing she did after taking a bath or waking up was to sling the sword across her back. She didn’t want to take any chances.
Motekeru still watched over her whenever she was alone, but only because she had asked him to. She felt more comfortable, knowing he was here to stop her if anything went wrong. And she seemed, for some reason, to enjoy his sour company. Strangely enough, he enjoyed hers as well. Normally, he grew weary of being around others after about half an hour—or a few minutes if the fetch was involved. But he never tired of being with Awasa.
“I was meditating, Lady Awasa,” he said in his hollow, mechanical voice.
.” She looked directly into his fiery eyes, something most people wouldn’t do. “Then you started brooding.”
“How could you tell?”
“It gets warmer in the room when you brood.”
He stared at her until she cracked a grin, revealing the full length of her slender fangs.
“That’s a joke, yes?”
“Of course, it is.” She winked. “I caught you though, didn’t I?”
“I suppose you did, Lady Awasa.”
She finished drying off and tossed the towel aside. The soulless servants that waited on her had placed both of her daily outfits, freshly cleaned and folded, onto the nearby table. One set of robes, inner and outer, was pink with white flowers, while the other was pale cream with dark blue swirls. She stared at them for a while.
“The pink robes look best on you, Lady Awasa.”
She turned and raised an eyebrow at him. “Aren’t you a surprise?”
“I had three wives and a gaggle of daughters. I know women’s fashion.”
“From two thousand years ago!”
He shrugged his wooden shoulders. “I don’t think much has changed.”
She laughed, then turned back toward the outfits. She fell silent and continued to stare at them.
“Is something wrong, my lady?”
She shook her head. “I’d just rather wear my training clothes.”
“The servants brought these because you are finished training, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear them. No one will judge you for wearing your training outfit.”
“I know, but seeing these laid out…. There’s this voice in the back of my mind that tells me I should dress properly. It’s my mother’s voice, by the way, not the Warlock’s.” She sighed deeply. “You’d think that after everything I’ve been through I could escape her nagging.”
Motekeru didn't respond. She didn't expect him to. And he didn't think it would help to admit that, even after all this time, he could still hear his father shouting, telling him he had to live up to their clan's expectations.
She ran a hand across the pink robe. “You know, my mother’s why I shaved my head. I could still hear her telling me every night that I had to brush my hair with a hundred strokes. I have enough voices in my head these days. I wanted hers to stop.”
“You still hear her, though, don’t you?”
She nodded. “Yeah, but it’s not as bad with my head bald.”
“I made my daughters brush their hair every night, with a hundred strokes to each side.”
His joints creaked as he rose to his feet. He clunked heavily across the room, pulled her training uniform from the shelf, and reached it toward her. “You do have to wear something, my lady.”
Her eyes locked onto the shelf. Underneath the uniform lay another outfit, one she had rescued from the trash, after the servants had thrown it away. She stepped over and picked up the tattered traveling outfit she had worn across the Ancient Cold and Deep. The thin garment, ripped to shreds, had left an indecent amount of her skin exposed to the elements. But because she had bitten into the neck of the Winter Child and drank her blood, Awasa hadn't felt the cold.
She held the cloth up and stared at it, wide-eyed, as if mesmerized.
“It still haunts you?” Motekeru asked.
“At first it was all a dream to me—nothing but a nightmare. But slowly, I remembered everything I had done as Ninefold Awasa. It doesn’t matter that I’m different now. Because the things I did as her are still there in my head, like my mother's voice telling me to dress properly. Those gruesome memories and awful thoughts…they won’t go away.”
“They will fade with time,” Motekeru assured her.
Although, he wasn't certain that was true. He still vividly remembered Chonda Lu killing his wives…selling his daughters into slavery…turning him into a monster, a hellish nightmare that had haunted him for two millennia.
He realized he was staring off into space, heat and rage building up within him. But that was okay. Unlike Awasa, he had never once lost control. He could hold onto the anger, feeding it deep into the magical furnace that fueled him. And when next he fought, he would unleash it against his enemies.
His eyes met Awasa’s, which narrowed as she studied him. Then she clenched them shut and sighed with defeat. She knew he was lying to make her feel better.
She tossed the tattered outfit aside and fell to her knees. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Motekeru didn't try to sooth her. It was good for her to cry. Crying was so completely human, and something the Warlock would never have done. It was something he himself could not do, another simple pleasure he missed.
“It’s not going to end well for me, Keru. I’m going to lose control. I’m going to turn back into
“I won’t let that happen, Lady Awasa,” Motekeru said. “And neither will Master Turesobei. We are all prepared to help you.”
“But you don’t know what we’ll face, what we’ll have to do to win.” She reached her left hand over her shoulder and stroked her fingers along Fangthorn’s handle. “You don’t know what I will end up doing…. It’s going to happen again. I’m going to do something terrible. I will. And then I’ll lose control.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
She shook her head. “No, from the moment I killed the Winter Child, my fate was sealed. I’ll have no choice—none at all. And afterward…I don’t know if I can…” Her words trailed off into sobs.
Motekeru checked the mark on her forehead and the ghostly kavaru in the sword’s pommel. Neither had changed. Despite this ill mood and her confusing statements, she was still herself.
“My lady, what are you talking about?”
She glanced at him, wiped away her tears, and tried to smile. “Sorry, it’s…it’s just the corruption. Sometimes…my mind wanders into dark places…and I…I feel doomed. That’s all.”
After centuries of watching Chonda Lu and dealing with his enemies, Motekeru had a good feeling for when someone wasn’t telling the truth. Awasa wasn’t exactly lying, but she was hiding something. Nothing good would come from pressing her about it though—not now anyway.
“You are strong, Lady Awasa. You have the corruption under check. You have the sword. You have friends and people who love you.”
She nodded absently. Her eyes were once again locked onto the outfit she had tossed aside.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” Motekeru said.
“Have you ever been afraid of anything?”
“Of course, I have.”
“Since you became—”
“A monster?” he asked. “I haven’t felt fear in…” his voice faltered into a guttural clacking “…in a very long time.”
She stood and spun around. “Are you okay?”
“Truthfully?” He shook his head. “No, I am not.”
A horrified expression crossed her face. “You’re afraid?!”
“For myself? No. But for what might happen to you and the others, yes. I have…despite everything…learned to care again. I never thought that could happen. But it has.”
“Maybe you aren’t the monster you thought.”
“Oh, I am a monster. Never forget that.”
“You aren’t one to me.”
“Do not fool yourself. I am what Chonda Lu made me. And in the end, I always will be.”
“Chonda Lu….” Lady Awasa groaned. “It always seems to come back to him. I suppose, for us, it always will.”
“Assuming we make it out of this…yes.”
“You know what Turesobei’s special destiny is, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Motekeru said, “and I suspect you do as well.”
She stared unblinking into his eyes for a few moments, then nodded. “After I started training with Hannya, it wasn’t hard to figure out the gist of it. But I don’t understand how he can’t know. Or why no one realized it as he was growing up.”
“He doesn’t know because Chonda Lu didn’t want him to. And the spell on that kavaru affects everyone around who isn’t a Kaiaru, or the product of one like myself and the fetch.”
“Will you explain to me exactly what Turesobei is?”
“I could, but you know enough, perhaps too much, already. And it’s best not to dwell on it. There’s nothing you or I can do about it. Not right now, at least. And I don’t believe he will transform anytime soon.”
Awasa’s eyes narrowed as she growled. “Chonda Lu’s as bad as the Blood King.”
“Don’t judge him based on what Turesobei will become or on what he did to me. For a Kaiaru, Chonda Lu was not a bad man.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Chonda Lu could have made a dozen creatures like me, if he had wanted. Most Kaiaru, if they’d had his skill, would have done just that.”
“If you say so.”
“Trust me. I spent two millennia around him. I witnessed firsthand just how vengeful, self-centered, and devious the man was. You have no idea the things he made me do.” His mind wandered a few moments through the darkened halls of his memory. “But for a tyrant, he had a good heart…even if it was buried deep within. Ultimately, he did more good things than bad.”
“The fetch makes Chonda Lu sound like the greatest man ever. Yet he loves Turesobei and knows what will happen to him. I don’t get it.”
“Oh, the fetch more than anyone, including me, knows Chonda Lu for what he truly was. He witnessed everything. But given how Lu Bei was made….” Motekeru clicked his shoulders into a shrug.
Awasa raised an eyebrow. “How was he made?”
He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “It’s not my place to tell that story. And I think there’s a spell binding the knowledge anyhow. Besides, the fetch is what he is.”
“Well, he’s a pest, and I don’t trust him.”
“Nor should you.”
“Turesobei deserves a better destiny.”
Motekeru nodded. “Master Turesobei is everything Chonda Lu could have been but wasn’t. I would throw myself into the jaws of Torment for him. Of course, I would do the same for Enashoma, Zaiporo, Kurine, and Iniru. Maybe even the fetch. But never tell him I said so.”
“You didn’t mention me,” Awasa said in a quiet, hurt voice. “Would you die for me?”
Motekeru reached out and stroked a wooden hand across her cheek. “For you, my lady, I would storm the Gates of Torment and destroy all that I found within.”
She gazed at him, puzzled. “Why would you do that for me?”
“Because we are damaged, you and I. We understand one another, and….” He cocked his head one way then another before spreading his hands wide in defeat. “Must there be a reason?”
Awasa shook her head then kissed him on the cheek. “I used to think so. Now, I know better.”
Motekeru fell to one knee. “My lady, I will never let you fall into darkness. And I swear that on our missions for the Blood King, I will allow no lasting harm to come to you.”