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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Coming Home
A Tale of Destruction, Redemption and Penguins

by Jeff Hersh (Shilree)

Chapter 7: Twisted Destiny

Where Shilree and Sque wander in
unfamiliar waters and finally find
the lost Diaryn.

Signature Divider

The beach was just like every other one Shilree had ever been on. Still, there was something different about it and that something was bothering her. There were the obvious differences, the native flora and fauna where nothing like she had ever seen before, but those weren’t the things that were annoying her. The entire place, the beach, the ocean even the sky had a different feel to it. It was familiar but alien at the same time.

*Enough land thinking Shilree friend!* Sque called from the nearby lagoon. *Time for hunt seek!*

*In a moment Sque,* said Shilree checking the contents of her magical pouch. The Soul Hook and the wooden box with the Soul Gem were still there. Also, to Shilree’s surprise, so was the Staff of the Walker. She had thought that by now the Staff would have done its disappearing act. It could only mean that the artifact was not done with her yet.

*Ok Sque, I am coming,* she said as she closed the pouch and activated its security enchantments. *Let’s see what we can find out there.*

Book Divider

"Whatever these long blue fish are," Shilree thought as she munched on her catch, "they sure taste good."

*Not home fist tasty,* said Sque echoing Shilree’s thoughts.

*They sure are Sque,* she said slowly surfacing to get a look around.

*Shilree friend wait,* chirped Sque in alarm.

*What is it Sque?*

*Listen. Man boat coming.*

Shilree was intrigued. There was intelligent life here after all. She didn’t expect to find Diari here, buy maybe humans or some other race populated these waters.

*Where?*

Sque pointed a direction with his snout. *A mile or two headways.*

Shilree turned towards the direction Sque was pointing out and listened. She could just hear the steady beat of many oars being plunged into and pulled through the water. She could also hear the rhythmic sound of drumming in time with the oar strokes.

*I am going to check it out. You coming Sque?*

*Since when does Sque not go to fun places?*

Shilree smiled and swam off after the vessel. If she was lucky these people knew of the Diaryn. Who knows, they might actually be the Diaryn.

Book Divider

It didn’t take them long to reach the ship. It wasn’t a large vessel, only a quarter of the size of a Diari galleon. By how it sat in the water Shilree could tell that it was heavily laden with cargo.

"Maybe it is a merchant vessel," she thought.

*Sque go up and take a look,* chirped the dolphin enthusiastically.

Sque swam up, broke the surface and performed one of his favorite flips. After he plunged back into the water Sque returned to Shilree chittering about what he saw.

*Many men on man boat Shilree friend,* said Sque.

*Are they armored?*

*Yes. Men wear fake shells and have long blades.*

"Ok, so it is not a merchant ship. Most likely a war vessel," Shilree thought.

*Look out behind!!!* yelled Sque.

Shilree turned just in time to see a fishing net close around her. She tried swim free but was already tangled in the net along with many other small sea creatures. All Sque could do was watch as Shilree was dragged aboard the vessel.

Book Divider

The ship wasn’t totally full of armored men as Sque had implied. Most of them did wear primitive bronze armor, but many others just wore loose clothing.

"Those must be the ship’s crew. The armored men must be soldiers prepped for battle," she thought.

The entire ship’s complement was staring at her in silence as she lay on the ship’s deck. They quickly started talking to each other in a language Shilree didn’t understand. There was a barking yell and the men quieted down and parted from around her. A large man in highly decorative armor came forward.

"This does not look good at all," Shilree thought. "I think I am in real trouble here."

The stocky and well muscled soldier looked at Shilree for a moment, yelled something to the crew then smiled at her. She knew that type of smile and it wasn’t friendly.

The head soldier grabbed Shilree by her hair and dragged her to her feet. Shilree reached for her belt but the soldier grabbed her wrists and held her tight. Shilree struggled to break free, the crew laughing as she fought, but he was too strong. Shilree bit her lip with frustration and blood oozed out.

The soldier asked her something in his language. She, of course, didn’t understand one world. He asked again, this time yelling. Shilree looked back him blankly. He drew his sword and pressed it against her neck. A small rivulet of blood flowed from where the blade touched flesh.

Shilree looked tight into the soldier’s eyes with all the venom she could muster. The soldier was taken off guard for a moment, but quickly regained composure. He turned Shilree around so she was facing the same direction as him. The soldier yelled an order to the crew who went back to their duties. The brute then whispered something in Shilree’s ear as he tightened his grip on her wrists. While she didn’t understand the words, she got the meaning. This kiljhac was going to try to beat the information he wanted out of her and then, more than likely, rape her, kill her and throw her back into the sea.

As if cued by her thoughts, the soldier shoved her down to a small enclosure near the bow of the ship all the while holding her wrists with one hand and the sword against her neck with the other. Once at the enclosure of crates and barrels, he threw Shilree to the deck kicking her hard once she was down. Shilree felt a rib but she was determined not to give him the satisfaction of having her cry out. Defiantly she scowled at him.

Laughing, the soldier confidently removed his armor. He turned his head back towards the crew and said something. The crew laughed in return. This was the opportunity Shilree was waiting for. Quickly she removed a dagger from her pouch and hid it along her palm and arm. The soldier, sensing movement out of the corner of his eye, turned back to her. He yelled at her and kicked over and over again with brutal force. Shilree felt the bones in her face shatter and something in her belly burst under the repeated blows. Blood swelled up into her mouth. Even if she got away, she could knew these injuries would kill her. She estimated she only had ten minutes at the most before she died of internal bleeding.

Seeing her spit up blood, the soldier started to laugh again. Shilree had enough. This falag kiljhac had put her in her grave. She was not going to let him get away with it. With all the rage she could muster she turned the dagger around and thrust it up into the soldier. The blade ripped him open from crotch to sternum. His innards fell out onto the deck in a steaming lump. The look on the soldier’s face was one of complete disbelief. It was as if her fighting back had never even occurred to him.

As soon as the head soldier fell to the deck the ship was in an uproar. Soldiers, all with their blades drawn, closed on Shilree. She jumped up trying to ignore the pain. She might be dying, but she wasn’t going to give these kiljhac the satisfaction of finishing her off. She turned toward the sea and hobbled for the edge of the ship.

Shilree could hear the soldiers closing behind her. Not looking back she inched forward to the ships rail. The smell of the ocean was strong. With extreme effort she lifted herself up on the rail. One more step and she would be safe in the ocean. Just as she was about to roll herself into the warm sea the entire ship exploded in a ball of liquid fire but Shilree was unconscious long before she felt the blast.

Book Divider

Shilree awoke lying on a soft bed and covered in bandages. Her whole body hurt.

"Awake?" asked a kindly male voice from behind her.

She tried to turn to see who it was but her body told her that was a bad idea.

"I wouldn’t move. I am afraid your injuries were very bad. You almost died. I think it is best if you got some sleep."

As if the voice had turned a switch in her mind, Shilree drifted off to sleep. As she fell into unconsciousness, a revelation hit her. The voice had spoken to her in perfect High Diari.

Book Divider

She was back in the nightmare world. Asteroid sized boulders floated about in a chaotic green and red sky. Things moved just on the edge of her vision. Whenever she turned to look at them directly they disappeared from view.

"Welcome back dear jailer," said Tiall.

"It is about time you returned. We were feeling neglected,” said Trill mockingly.

"Yes, we had begun to think you had forgotten about us."

"Tiall, you know that will never happen. Our jailer will never let herself forget about us."

"True, very true."

"Now that she is back what shall we do with her?" asked Trill mischievously.

Shilree turned to run, but the ground was like taffy around her ankles. Sharp horror flowed over her as she realized that ground was swallowing her alive.

"From the look of it, it looks like she is doing all our work for us. It is awfully considerate of her don’t you think?"

The witch and the spirit walked up to the trapped Shilree who was now consumed up to her shoulder. Trill grabbed Shilree by her chin and smiled evilly. Trill opened her mouth as if to speak. Instead of speaking she blew forth a cacophonous scream. Tiall joined her a moment later. It wasn’t long before Shilree was screaming as well.

Book Divider

Shilree awoke flailing wildly. The cries of sea birds echoed her own screams. Pain rapidly overcame her terror and she collapsed back onto the bed.

"Easy visitor," said the same voice that spoke to her last time. "The salves and potions just started to work. You don’t want to work against them, do you?"

Shilree calmed down. Whoever her caretaker was, he had a soothing effect on her.

"Where am I?" she whispered.

"Lyantis."

"Where?"

"Lyantis."

"Where is that?"

Silence.

"Hello? Are you still there? Where is Lyantis?"

"I think you better rest."

Shilree felt sleepy again.

"No! Get out of my head!" Shilree shrieked. By shear force of will she sat up and turned around. The pain was excruciating.

The man looked almost Diari, but there were some very important differences. His hair was deep green, the color of ocean plants. Two gill slits, much like the ones her augmented body sported, lay on each side of his neck. His hands were webbed to a much higher degree than hers. His eyes were slitted like a cat’s and deep blue in color. He was draped in a blue-green silken robe that clung to his body with no obvious clasp.

Shilree was silent for moment then began to laugh.

"It is about time I found you," she said between laughing gasps.

The Diaryn look at Shilree curiously as she continued to laugh.

Book Divider

"But Glan," Shilree asked the Diaryn healer, "you still haven’t answered my main question. Where is this place?"

In the few weeks that Shilree had been under his care, Glan, or more correctly Glan’na’ri, had been instructive in telling her all about the Diaryn. They controlled a large empire above and below the waves. Problems from outsiders where minimal due to the military patrols, but they were ever vigilant. Still, Glan was very obtuse when it came to answering her questions about where they were, how they found her and why the Diaryn were here in the first place.

"I have answered that question. We are in..."

"I know. I know. We are in Lyantis," Shilree said exasperated. "And I thought Magnate was obtuse," she thought.

"Shilree there are things that the King should explain. You are mostly healed and he wishes to speak with you tonight."

Shilree nodded.

"Now, I must remind you no excess movement. Your bones and organs are still tender. You do not want to end back up here do you?"

"You don’t need to remind me. I fell like Derek used me as a chew toy."

Glan looked confused.

"Never mind. Someone I hope you never get to meet."

"I see," said Glan not really understanding. Glan changed the subject. "The King’s personal tailor will be here any moment to fit you for a dress. You are lucky, Thy’jay’ra is the best in all of the kingdom."

Shilree nodded just as there was a knock at the door.

"That will be Thy," said Glan. "You are in for a real treat."

Book Divider

The dress fitting wasn’t as bad as Shilree thought it might have been. Thy was a more than satisfactory tailor. She had taken one look at Shilree and knew what fabric and style would best suit her. The dress was make from a quiet silvery silk that felt as it flowed all around her. It was as if she was wearing the ocean wrapped in the wind.

"Well at least the stories about the Diaryn’s fashion sense are true," Shilree mused to herself.

The most frustrating thing was Thy’s insistence that Shilree take off her belt and pouch. Shilree, of course, absolutely refused. Thy tried to remove it herself, but couldn’t unfasten the belt. Shilree explained to her that it was a magical pouch that couldn’t be removed. Ok, so it wasn’t the complete truth. After the incident with Alderon, Shilree activated one of the Trade pouch’s security measures. As long as it was active only the wearer could open or remove the pouch. That was one nice benefit of Trade items, they always had nice extra features.

After she was dressed, Thy lead Shilree out of the hospital and down the main street of Lyantis.

"Where is the palace?" asked Shilree.

Thy pointed straight towards a large pool which lay ahead of them. The pool was intricately ornamented and Diaryn constantly dove in and out of it. As they emerged, they shifted from a half-dolphin state to a fully humanoid one.

"Transformation spell?" Shilree asked Thy.

"Not quite. All Diaryn change into our land form on the surface. It is who we are after years of body and genetic manipulation. We will never leave the sea, but being able to walk about on land had certain advantages."

Shilree nodded understanding completely. Her time as an “augmented” Diari had been some of the best in her life. She had actually considered asking the Emperor if she could keep the improvements once she got back to Diaria.

Thy and Shilree continued towards the fountain without further conversation. Once at the pool both of them dove in and Thy instantly shifted into her aquatic form. Together they swam for the Diaryn palace.

Book Divider

The King’s palace was the underwater equivalent to the Emperor’s palace in Ekyarn. Large halls made of marbleized coral spanned in every direction. Schools of bright colored fish swam in every direction. It made Shilree feel as if she was in some kind of dream world.

As she was gasping at the sights she was gently bumped from behind.

*Surprise Shilree friend!* said Sque.

*Sque! You old shark hunter! I wondered what happened to you.*

*Sque play hunter seeker with Shilree water people. Shilree play to?*

Shilree smiled, she should have know that Sque would have been ok.

"Come," Thy said with impatience, "One does not keep the King waiting. The dolphin must wait here."

Sque looked dejected.

*Don’t worry Sque, I will be back later.*

Sque chirped a farewell and swam off. Thy led Shilree into the main audience chamber of the palace.

Book Divider

The Diaryn King was a surprisingly tall but whifty looking man. It was as if someone was taken an ordinary Diaryn and stretched them lengthwise without widening him. The overall effect was disturbing very surreal.

"Cousin Diari," said the King as Shilree entered. "How many years has it been? One hundred? Two? How ever long, it has been too long. Come before me."

Shilree drifted quickly up to the throne. She noticed Thy stayed at the door.

"Glan’na’ri tell me your wounds have almost healed. You are very lucky."

"And grateful for your care your Highness. I was caught by a boat full of kiljhac soldiers. It was by the grace of Rekzyr I escaped."

"I wouldn’t say that Shilree of the Diari. You were lucky, but it was more of our doing than Rekzyr’s. You just so happened to be on a ship that had come close to one of our outer island settlements. We make a point of destroying all such interlopers."

Shilree nodded understanding the mistrust of outsiders. If all kiljhac in this place were like those that had captured her, they deserved their deaths.

"In fact," the King continued, "you would have died if it wasn’t for your dolphin friend. He dragged one of our soldiers to your body. Let me say he was really shocked to see an actual Diari. There are quite a number of people who consider the Diari a myth."

"Time tends to blur truth into myth your Highness."

"Yes, quite. Now to business. Why are you here Shilree of the Diari."

Shilree opened her pouch and pulled the second of the thought crystals the Emperor had given her.

"The Emperor of the Diari sent me to find you. Once found, I was instructed to deliver this message to your Highness."

The King reached forward and took the small crystal. As he touched it a small light shone from within.

"I see," said the King to nobody in particular.

The light in the crystal died out. The King looked very grave.

"Clear the court. I must speak to our guest privately."

The courtiers mumbled then swam out of the audience chamber. Even the King’s personal guards had left. After they all left the King motioned to Shilree.

"Come here Diari and sit," the King commanded.

Shilree did as the King commanded.

"Your Emperor has told me a grave events from your side of the world."

Shilree nodded then did a double take.

"Yes, you heard me correctly. I said your side. I am sure you surmised you are no longer on Ataniel. You are currently in one of the great oceans on Ansalia. It is where the Diaryn settled after the Purge."

Shilree was about to ask the obvious when the King stopped her.

"Please, let me speak. Your Emperor has asked me to explain and by ancient agreement I will honor his request."

Shilree settled down for what she was sure would be a long story.

Book Divider

It turned out the King’s tale didn’t take very much time at all. The Purge was what the Diaryn called the only civil war they fought in their entire history. It happened just before the Diaryn decided to leave Ataniel. Up to that time the Diari and the Diaryn had been close allies and learned much from each other. The Diaryn, however, took some lessons at little too well. They adopted the Diari philosophy of isolationism regarding outsiders with an almost religious fervor. As with all such passionate beliefs, some people took it a little to far. A large faction of Diaryn isolationists grew is power. They wanted to isolate the Diaryn for all non-Diaryn, including the Diari. The civil war was fought over the issue and the isolationists won.

After the isolationists banished or removed the anti-isolationists from power, they used the ancient portal that had been around for as long as the Diaryn could remember. It turned out that the Diaryn always knew about the portal, but never shared its existence with the Diari. Before they left some of the anti-isolationists tried to inform the Diari what was going on. Most of them were killed, but a few escaped.

“From your account of how you came here, it seems that none of my people made it to your shores,” said the King.

Once on Ansalia, the Diaryn built their empire around to what it is today. To the Diaryn’s knowledge they were the greatest civilization on Ansalia. Their legendary greatness attracted human pirates and would be conquers. It was for this reason that the Diaryn sunk any vessel that crossed into their waters.

The King confessed his people were happy here and really had no desire to return to Ataniel. Further, Shilree’s appearance had started the old debate up again. Already the city guard had broken up fights over the topic. There was even talk about killing Shilree and pretending she was never here.

"Don’t worry," said the King, "I have made it known that if you were to suddenly disappear others would follow as well. Still, I need to take action soon. I will not allow us to fall into civil war again."

"Your Highness, pardon my interruption," Shilree said, "I do fully appreciate the position you are in, but what does this have to do with my mission for the Emperor?"

"What do you know of Shastirin?"

"Southern Diaria? It was Diaria’s and Ataniel’s only trade port with non-Atanielite races."

"Yes. And what else?"

"Else?"

"Don’t you find it odd that there exists such an ’open’ area to outsiders in Diaria?"

"It never occurred to me."

"Shastirin has, excuse me had, another purpose. Since your people first made contact with non-Ataniel races the Emperor knew there was the possibility of invasion. Southern Diaria was built as a buffer and fortress against any such invasion. This is why the city was razed during what the Emperor called the Shattering. Southern Diaria was the first victim of the forces of Shadow."

Shilree was kicking herself mentally. It was so obvious. Why had she never put it together?

"There are other forces in the universe other than Shadow which can and do threaten this world," the King continued. "Soon after our peoples formed the alliance, the Emperor and the Diaryn made a compact. We would build up Southern Diaria and keep the vigil together for the sake of our races and even the kiljhac. It is that bargain the Emperor is invoking now. He has called upon us to help him rebuild what had been destroyed as quickly as possible."

"I am going to send a contingent of on hundred soldiers and laborers back to Ataniel with you. Once there, you are to signal the Emperor. He said you would know how."

Shilree remembered the black crystal in her pouch and nodded affirmation.

"Good. Once signaled the Emperor will send a force of Diari to help in the city’s reconstruction. From what was told to me, the city will take centuries to rebuild to its former glory but an operational military base on Port is essential for all our sakes."

Shilree quietly mulled over the full implications of what she had been told. It seemed that she knew far less about her own people than she once believed. She wondered what other secrets the Emperor had been hiding from the populace all these years. The knowledge of Southern Diaria’s true purpose would have had a profound impact on Diari society. It might have even opened them up a bit to the outside word. Shilree wondered how the public would take this news if they found out. More than likely, she realized, not very well. The last thing Diaria need was more civil unrest. She would keep this secret. Even so, she and the Emperor were going to have along talk once she got back to Ekyarn.

Signature Divider

Chapter 8: Hubris

Where Shilree answers a cry for
help and ends up learning things
she was never meant to know.

Signature Divider

The trip back to Ataniel went seamlessly. Shilree and the contingent of Diaryn passed through the portal without much trouble. Sque, however, had decided to say on Ansalia.

*Hunter seeker more fun here with water people Shilree friend!* said the dolphin just before she left. She hoped one day she would see her friend again, but somehow she doubted it.

She was thankful that the hordes of fish-things that she and Sque had encountered before were nowhere to be seen at the Ataniel side of the portal. From there Shilree and the Diaryn swam the distance to the Shastirin Archipelago, the group of islands that made up Southern Diaria.

Once they reached the islands, they all surfaced and walked onto one of the smaller islands. The air was cold and quiet. The only sounds were that of the ocean and the occasional cry of a sea bird. Southern Diaria hadn’t changed at all since Shadow destroyed the city. Buildings still stood, but many where burnt out husks. Discarded papers and other assorted trash blew in the wind. All the Diaryn were quiet with the same feelings that Shilree had felt when she entered the ruined city during the Second Shadow War. Grief and shock so strong that all one could do was stand there quietly.

“This place is a mess,” said one of the Diaryn laborers finally speaking. “It will take us years to get this place back into shape.”

“Yes, I know,” said Shilree, “According to the Emperor and your King what is important is the military bases on Port not the city itself.”

Shilree grabbed the black crystal out of her pouch.

“Time to call in the troops,” she said to herself.

Holding it firmly, Shilree focused her thoughts on the black crystal. The crystal flashed once and crumbled to dust. Shilree felt the message contained within the crystal fly out of it. No doubt the message was heading for the Emperor who would receive it and dispatch the Diari task force.

Shilree turned back to the waiting Diaryn. “Let’s get to work.”

Book Divider

The Diari arrived a week after Shilree sent the signal. They were mostly construction workers and manual laborers, but there was also a small group of Diari military headed by General Wycran, a well muscled man with blazingly intelligent eyes. The first few days the Diari and Diaryn spent the time getting to know each other. The two races spent time swapping tales of the years they had been apart. The Diaryn were particularly interested in the destruction of the Southern Diaria and the new moon that darkened the sky like a cancer.

Much to the annoyance of the General, Shilree spent most of those days to herself exploring the city. Shilree still held onto the hope that there was some survivors from the Shadow onslaught. Sadly, all the evidence told her that this was not the case. On the positive side, she did stumble upon the ruins of three Diari spelljammers. None of them were in traveling condition, but the psi-helms in each were in working order. When she brought her discovery to the attention of General Wycran he was overjoyed. One of his biggest concerns would be how to fight an enemy from space with no spaceships. After this point he didn’t argue with Shilree about her wandering around the city by herself.

It was during one of her nights exploring that she first heard the call. At first she thought it was her imagination. The voice was that of a small girl at the edge of her mind. The voice slowly grew to a whisper. As she focused on it the voice, though it was faint, became clearer.

-help me,- it called.

-Hello?- Shilree asked mentally. -Who is there?-

The voice vanished. This was strange, somehow someone was trying to psionically contact her. What worried Shilree was that she could hear the voice even through the mental protection given to her by the headband she wore. Even the Emperor had problems talking to her telepathically when she wore that headband. She hoped that she was, as she first thought, just imagining it and this was not a real psionic communication. The events of the following night proved otherwise.

Book Divider

Shilree was sitting around a campfire with a mixed group of Diari and Diaryn when she was contacted again. They were planning the first buildings for New Southern Diaria. At first it was thought that it would be better to build on Ataniel before trying to go out to Port. However, Wycran insisted that such a plan was not an option. The various sides were arguing loudly lover which side was correct when the call came.

-help me please.-

Shilree jumped up startling the camp.

“What’s wrong?” asked one of the Diari laborers.

Shilree help up her hand telling him to be quiet.

-please... it hurts... help...-

The voice was fading again. Shilree decided to risk contact and removed the headband. As she did images flooded her mind.

She was somewhere deep underground. The corridor was darkly familiar. Bane. She was back inside Bane. But it was different from how Bane had been while occupied by Shadow. The corridors were empty, smelled of rotting flesh and the walls turned in dream like directions as she walked through them. The whole place felt unreal.

-this way, please help,- said the voice from up ahead.

Shilree walked without really knowing where she was going. She moved more on instinct than on conscious thought. After a while she came to a door made of some type of tarnished metal. It was jammed half open. The rotting smell that filled the corridors was very strong here. She peered into the chamber beyond the door but could see nothing.

Swallowing once, she forced herself through the doorway. Inside it was very dark. Shadows played in her vision making her see things that weren’t there. She walked forward step by step.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” she asked with a twinge of fear in her voice.

-over here,- said the voice. -please help.-

Shilree walked further into the darkness. Without warning a light burst forth from below her. She looked around, she was in a chamber that was so large she couldn’t see any of the walls or the ceiling. It felt like she was the only one in existence in plane of nothingness. No, not quite the only one, there was movement from above.

-help me,- said the voice again. -it hurts, please help me.-

Shilree looked up, invoked a flying spell and floated upwards to the voice. Three hundred feet up she saw who had been calling her. Floating in thin air an egg shaped structure hung. It was a hodge podge mixture of stone, crystal and flesh held together by magics that Shilree didn’t even want to contemplate. As she approached, Shilree could make out a person, a human woman, was melded with the egg. Her limbs were broken over the surface of the egg. Parts of her body were buried deep in the egg, while others stuck out at impossible angles. The woman’s head was downcast, the shadows and soiled hair hid her face from view.

We apologize, but Jeffy hasn't gotten the end of this story to the HPB yet. Bad Jeffy! Bad! *HPB thwacks Poodle-Boy with a newspaper*

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