Here’s a second chapter preview, this time it’s Mother Alanna, another character from “Hallowed Ends.”
The timeless dream became a steady white light, the sun, the flowers, the hillsides, the bright blue sky fading into an endless void with no beginning, no end. The flower petals fell from Mother Alanna’s fingers, disappearing before they reached her feet. She called out to the void, her voice seeming to echo forever with no reply. Sadness enveloped her, the sense of loss of her god abandoning her, taking from her one final happiness as the peace and serenity of her dream became nothing. The silence made her want to scream, the fear of madness replacing the serenity that she had felt only moments earlier. A bright flash, somehow brighter than the white void, forced her to close her eyes.
When she opened them, she was surrounded by darkness other than the dim glow of the heavy object on her chest. Alanna lay still as she steadied her breathing, amazed that the heavy metal on her chest flared lightly with a red glow with each breath she inhaled, becoming a dim blue that faded with each exhale. She listened intently, unsure of her surroundings. The faint sound of voices met her ears. Alanna struggled to move, her limbs stiff and sore. When she was finally able to gain control of her hands, she ran them over the object on her chest, sighing at the warmth emanating from it.
Her fingers felt the smooth edges of a hammer head, then the solid shaft, and finally the perfectly oiled leather strips of the weapon’s handle. A distant memory came to her of Tarver Irondale’s son, Davon, lovingly placing the warhammer on her chest and gently wrapping her fingers around its shaft. The memory became a blur, but not before she recognized Davon’s father, Feyric, and Mother Lucille, kneeling next to her body on the funeral bier, softly conversing then praying to Torren.
The instant she thought of Torren, her god, her master, she came fully awake. A sharp intake of breath caused the weapon to flare brightly. She almost screamed in fright at the number of bodies surrounding her, all of them bereft of life, all beginning to decompose. Alanna swung her legs off the bier, wincing at the floor’s chill, wincing again when she stood. Her legs refused to obey her commands at first, but after a few seconds, she used the warhammer as a makeshift crutch to steady herself. The voices she heard seemed muffled, as if far away, which made her wonder if she was still asleep, still in another realm, or still dead. She sucked in a breath to create more light, hoping to find a doorway.
After a few minutes of searching, she became frustrated, until another distant memory came to her. The clerics of Torren had sealed her inside the burial chambers reserved for those of their order. She wanted to cry, but the warhammer began to glow a faint red at first, becoming brighter as her sadness and frustration mounted. Another thought—this one felt less like a memory, more like a sliver of inherent knowledge—suggested she use the weapon to destroy the tomb’s wall. Part of her balked, the shame of desecrating the final resting place for members of her order instilled in her since she took up the robes as a young girl. Another part of her hungered to swing the weapon with all of her might so that she would be free from the pitch black tomb.
Alanna used the warhammer’s constant glow to find the creases in the wall where the doorway had been sealed. She closed her eyes and swung the hammer, letting out a shout of surprise when the weapon’s head slammed into the masonry, shattering it into fine dust. Screams of fright met her ears, then the shuffling of feet. She peeked out into the dim hallway to see three clerics, their eyes wide with terror, staring at her. One still had a long strip of cerement in her shaking hand. Alanna took one step into the hallway and raised the warhammer as if it were a torch.
The clerics screamed again and ran in the opposite direction, afraid the specter that had escaped its resting place would attempt to strike them down and send their souls to the underworld. Alanna tried to call out to them, to assure them that she was neither lich or demon, but by the time she could form the words, all that was left in the hallway was the waxed cloth from the cleric’s hand. She followed their cries for help down the long hallway, pausing at a wide set of stone stairs. More voices came from above, then the sharp command of a familiar voice that silenced the others. Alanna listened to the barely audible rapid whispering, then the sounds of cloth rubbing together along with footsteps that grew closer.
Alanna saw two glowing globes of blue, then the face they illuminated as the robed figure descended the stairs. Mother Lucille’s face went white with shock, her eyes wide with fear as she saw the naked cleric the others had run away from. Mother Lucille rushed down the remaining stairs, reaching the bottom just as Alanna pitched forward, her last thought a mix of wonder and amazement that she was in the basement of the cathedral instead of wandering as a ghost through an underworld plane.
“Am I dead?” Mother Alanna asked after opening her eyes to shaded sunlight.
“No,” a voice said as soft fingers stroked her cheeks.
“Are you sure?” Alanna asked, closing her eyes when the light became too bright, too strong.
“Mother Lucille says you are not dead,” another voice said, this one almost as familiar as Lucille’s. “I have sent Sister Erin to fetch her.”
“Father Kyle?” Alanna asked weakly.
“Yes, my dear,” Father Kyle answered, grasping her free hand. He and the other clerics had tried to remove her right hand from the warhammer she clutched to her chest, but had given up after a few minutes of struggling, the weapon’s head growing a brighter red the harder they struggled to pry her fingers apart. “Yes, it’s Father Kyle. Do you know where you are?”
“The cathedral,” Alanna said softly, opening her eyes again. The cleric’s face hovered near hers, his kind smile and wise eyes tinged with worry. “Kyle,” she said, squeezing his hand. “What has happened to me?”
“We do not know,” Father Perry said from the other side of the bed. Alanna turned her head, wincing when the light became brighter. “Do you remember?”
“Torren…” Alanna trailed off, remembering the endless days and nights with her god.
“Yes, Torren has awoken,” Mother Trina said from the end of the bed. “Welcome back, Alanna.” She smiled at the woman in the bed. “You have frightened a number of acolytes, and I’m afraid you will be the subject of tall tales for generations to come.”
Alanna smiled and closed her eyes again, the familiarity of her friends and surroundings washing over her. The wispy memories of conversations came and went, her thoughts reaching out to hold on to them before they dissolved. She remembered Torren sharing a bottle of wine with her on the deck of a luxury ship as it sailed through the calm oceans of the southern seas, but she was unable to grasp the subject of their conversation. The sound of a door opening brought her back to the present.
“Mother Alanna,” Lucille’s melodic voice said.
Alanna’s heart warmed at the sound, then her whole body at Lucille’s light touch on her shoulder. She smiled at her friend, her teacher, her mentor of almost three decades. Lucille, once a thinning, graying woman in her fiftieth summer, looked exactly as she had the day she took a frightened, orphaned Alanna under her wing. Alanna’s memories floated back to the days after her family had been waylaid on the high mountain road leading into High Cliff, of a young Mother Lucille holding her tight, whispering to her that she was safe, that the clerics would take care of her. Alanna began to cry, the love she felt for the woman she considered her mother enveloping her.
“Shhhh,” Lucille whispered, her hands once again glowing a soft blue as she cupped Alanna’s face. “It’s all right. You’re alive, and you’re safe.”
Alanna felt peace wash over her even as her silent tears continued to flow. They had become tears of joy as she felt the power of her god remove the stain of sadness, despair, and loneliness from her. A kiss on her forehead from Lucille sealed the love in, and she closed her eyes once again, this time falling into a deep slumber. When she woke again, the room was dark other than a number of candles burning in their wall sconces. She felt the warhammer pressed against her chest, its alternating red-blue glow steady as she breathed, her right hand still wrapped tightly around the shaft. Mother Lucille held her left hand, their fingers linked, a barely perceptible thread of love, joy, strength, and healing flowing into her.
“You are awake,” Lucille said, her voice quiet.
“Where am I?” Alanna asked.
“You are in my chambers.”
“How long have I been here?” Alanna asked, struggling to sit up until she realized the heavy weapon was still pressed into her chest.
“Four days and four nights,” Lucille answered.
“I am alive?”
“Yes, as far as any of us can tell. You show no signs of being a lich, a demon, or any other spirit in physical form.”
“What has happened to me?” Alanna asked, finally moving the warhammer off her chest and standing it up against the small chest next to the bed.
“I can only tell you of the events of your death,” Lucille said. “Of what became of you after… Torren has not spoken of it.”
“You talk to Torren?” Alanna asked, sitting up after Lucille placed a second pillow behind her.
“It is more that he talks to us, and only whenever he chooses, no matter how much we pray for his guidance.”
“I… I remember the forging,” Alanna said, struggling to remember the last moments of her life. “The shield, the beast… Davon Irondale striking the steel with his hammer… The pain…” She wiped away a stray tear that had escaped. “Then nothing. Or something. I cannot be sure if it was a dream or a reality.”
“What do you remember?”
“Davon, his father, you… at my side… praying, crying, loving…”
“Yes,” Lucille soothed, squeezing her friend’s hand. “But you were dead when that happened. Of that we are sure.”
“Torren…” Alanna murmured. “Torren welcomed me, showed me things I cannot remember other than I am sure we were together.”
“No doubt,” Lucille chuckled. “He has favored you with a resurrection. Father Perry and Father Kyle have been searching the records since you first scared the daylights out of the acolytes in the basement. They have found only fables, legends, old tales handed down across time in the pages of the tomes of such a miracle happening.”
“Maybe they aren’t fables,” Alanna said.
“No, I suppose not,” Lucille agreed. “But if that is the case, then the other stories they have found might be true as well. Stories of Clerics of Torren so powerful they could resurrect the dead. Gifts from our god to not only raise the fallen, but to smite the creatures who refused to stay dead, to counter the power of the ancient necromancers before The Fall, to heal the most serious of wounds.”
Lucille’s words triggered another memory in Alanna’s mind, one of her and Torren walking along a ridge, a deep, wide valley below them, towering cliffs of granite above. Torren’s words were muddled, faint, incomprehensible, but Alanna remembered the ideas, the images in her head that formed. He had spoken of her destiny, of dark journeys, of fear that would engulf her if her faith wavered. The memory suddenly became sharp, Torren’s words no longer faint and indistinct.
“I must leave,” Alanna said, attempting to get out of bed.
“No, you must rest,” Lucille said, pressing a hand into her chest.
“Torren has instructed me,” Alanna protested. She tried to remove Lucille’s hand, but the elder cleric’s hand was immovable. “I must go,” she pleaded softly.
“In time,” Lucille assured her. “For now, you must recover your strength. When you are ready, we will accompany you.”
“No,” Alanna said, leaning back into the pillows. “I must go alone.” She looked at her friend and smiled. “Though you are somehow younger and I would only slow you down. I dare not ask Him why he sends an old woman instead of you.”
Lucille laughed, stroked Alanna’s cheek, then stood up and went to the table near the window. She returned with a silver mirror, handing it to Alanna. Alanna gasped when Lucille’s palm glowed brightly enough for her to see her reflection.
“A gift for our faith, I believe,” Lucille said. “It is the same for all clerics who survived Hallow’s End.”
“But… I look twenty summers again! As do you!”
“Then you will appreciate just how handsome Father Ulysses is once more,” Lucille said with a wink and a sly smile.
Alanna thought of Father Ulysses, a man of more than sixty summers, though his rugged, handsome features had always belied his true age. Her eyes had always been drawn to the portrait of him that hung in the long hallway that led to the oratory. Painted during his twenty-fifth summer, it showed a Father Ulysses who had broken almost every woman’s heart in the order, along with at least a thousand other hearts belonging to the citizens of High Cliff. After losing his wife less than a month before the portrait was painted by a traveling artist commissioned by Emperor Almurra, he had never again taken a lover or showed the slightest interest in temporary intimacy. The artist’s skill was rumored to have been complemented by the hand of Torren for the way it erased the lines of pain, the creases of despair, and the gauntness of ultimate loss. Women across the region swooned at meeting the young cleric in person, the same as the young acolytes swooned whenever they passed by the portrait.
“He is like you?” Alanna asked. “Like me?”
Mother Lucille chuckled and nodded. “The poor girls… They fall all over themselves for his attentions. It is good that Father Ulysses is discreet now that he has decided his long abstinence is over.” She winked at Alanna, a wry grin quickly becoming a knowing smile.
“You?” Alanna asked, shocked not at Lucille’s dalliance with the cleric, but at combination of lust and love that she could see in her friend’s face.
“I am but one,” Lucille answered, refusing to look away. “But as I said, he is discrete, and I am sure he would not like Mother Lucille spreading tales of his desires to a newly resurrected member of the order.” Her expression became serious. “Tell me of this journey Torren has commanded you to undertake.”
“I am to travel to the Dread Mountains,” Alanna said, her memory of Torren’s instructions becoming solid, as if He had spoken to her only seconds earlier.
“The Dread Mountains?” Lucille asked with concern. “There is nothing but death and sorrow there. Not even the nightmare creatures venture into those cursed lands.”
“I am to destroy a corrupted temple, one dedicated to Gol,” Alanna said. “And any who still reside within its walls.”
“Gol?” Lucille asked, fear seeping into her voice. “Gol has been silent even longer than Torren. He was destroyed thousands of years ago during the Cataclysm.”
“Not destroyed,” Alanna said, handing the mirror back to Lucille. “Banished by the combined forces of both gods and the twilight peoples. Yet one last temple has survived, deep under the mountains, where nothing but memories remain. Torren assures me that I am to make the journey alone, as any who accompany me will perish long before we have crossed over the Black Pass.”
“But you are only one cleric!” Lucille exclaimed. “Though you posses a Hallowed warhammer, you are not a warrior! None of us are. We are healers, menders, clerics of the light.”
“We were once far more,” Alanna said, a wispy image of armies clashing in a desert basin floating at the edge of her thoughts, one side led by clerics of Torren, their shiny adamantine armor reflecting the glow of their powerful, god-infused weapons, the other a mass of darkness led by the sorcerers who brought about The Fall. “But I am afraid, as you are, that I am one woman, a robed cleric, possessing a powerful weapon that I have no training to use. I do, however, hesitate to question Him as to why I must do this, and do this alone.”
“Before Hallows End, I would have not feared to question anything,” Lucille agreed. “Now… I am afraid to question anything. Once a god awakens, takes interest in mortal affairs, it is wise to be truly faithful. The gods of old were not kind to apostates and those who had fallen out of favor.”
“May I eat?” Alanna asked, changing the subject. “I feel as if I have not eaten in centuries.”
“Of course, I will return shortly with a hot stew and chilled wine,” Lucille said, walking to the door. She looked back to her friend, still amazed that Alanna, like herself, had somehow become young again, vibrant once more. “Though it has only been six weeks since you have last eaten.”
“Six weeks…” Alanna whispered. “Feyric… and the girl… The one Tarver Irondale gifted the first weapon to…”
“Celana Hammerstone,” Lucille said with a smile. “Feyric and Celana departed for the western coast the day after Hallows End.”
“Nian,” Alanna said, unsure of where the knowledge had come from.
“Yes, Feyric mentioned Nian. He is to take the girl there to be trained to use her weapon.”
“Yes, that is the name she chose for it. Do you know the name of your warhammer?”
“Triumph,” Alanna said, somewhat frightened that she knew the Hallowed weapon’s name though the exquisite warhammer had been given to her after her death in at the forge.
“I will return soon,” Lucille said, her warm smile gracing her friend one last time before she slipped out of the room.