“So how do we start?” Orin asked excitedly as Elora strove in vein to make herself more comfortable in the wagon.
“Well, I'll have to use Etherin. You're supposed to do this while stationary, but like most everything else we just can't do things the right way,” Elora grinned at her Knight who gave his own smile in turn.
“No it seems we can't,” Orin replied, “Do I have to do anything?”
Elora shook her head. “No. A Smith must build the Forge. If you want you can offer up a prayer to the Great Spirit towards my success?”
Orin grimaced, “You're almost as bad as the Sister. I'll see what I can do, but I've think you've got this.”
Elora tried to stop the stress from manifesting itself on her face at his statement. She didn't believe that anything would go particularity wrong with creating the Forge, but this Bond had not exactly gone as planned. If it had she would have been Bound to Cellus and halfway to the Hall of Tyra right now instead of in the back of a mercenary supply wagon heading towards battle.
Her Knight had faith in her, this she knew. She had pretended to be asleep when they were walking to the camp but she had heard what Tessa had said about her. That she was a burden, dead weight. Elora herself thought half the things said were true, hurtful though they were. She was no warrior, nothing like her mother and father. Yet Orin did not hesitate in supporting her, in telling Tessa of the strength she had. A strength that Elora herself could not see.
How could he have such faith in her? This wasn't the first time, either. She had approached him with half a plan to leave the palace and a desperate need to save her parents. Anyone else she knew would have immediately called for Vera, yet he had barely asked any questions. He had merely reassured her that he would follow her into what must have sounded like certain doom and that was that. In that moment she had been transported back to her ill-fated wedding, staring up at a man she had never before seen and believing everything was going to be okay merely because he assured her of it.
Orin was becoming... important to her.
In what way she could not yet tell, but his presence these past weeks and even over the course of the last day had made things almost bearable. The stress of her parents under siege, the machinations of the Nobility and even Cellus' distant and cold demeanour, all of it was made tolerable when she at least got to see him at the end of it all.
He had become something that she hadn't expected at their first meeting: a friend. One who didn't want to be close for the prestige or acknowledgement that her station allowed, but simply because he liked her. It may sound strange to think so hard over a friendship, but the amount of true friends Elora had could be counted on one hand. Though if she counted the children in the orphanage, she had many more friends than she perhaps realised.
“Elora? Are you alright?” Orin asked and the Princess pulled herself from her thoughts to stare at her Knight.
Orin was capable at many things, but hiding what he was thinking was not one of them. On his face for all to see was the concern he felt for her and it caused warmth to blossom within her chest. She enjoyed it when he was worried about her. That may be strange, but she liked it anyway.
“I'm fine. Just lost in thought for a moment. Maybe you should get some rest while I work? I won't need you for anything and you should feel only a small amount of discomfort,” Elora said, her own worry for him making itself known in her voice. “You've barely slept.”
Orin rubbed his tired eyes with a hand, “Well if you don't count being unconscious, I suppose that's true. But you've not rested nearly as much as you should have either. Besides, if I fall asleep then who will pray for your success?”
There it was again. Orin often used humour to side-step serious topics, something that Elora was not used to, even with being as proficient as she was in the roundabout way of speaking that the Nobility have mastered over the centuries. She fought very hard to keep the smile off her lips but she failed as she often did and, as always, Elora's smile made Orin smile.
Okay, here we go,” Elora stated, her eyebrows furrowed as she reached out for Orin's hand.
This was it. The moment that she was dreading. In a single moment, a split second before their hands touched, Elora saw all the things that could go wrong with this. What if she messed up the timing? What if her mental image was not strong enough to manifest itself? But then, she realised, that it didn't matter. Orin was relying on her to support him in battle against foes too numerous to count, and not just Orin. Her mother, her father and all those with them were relying on her as well, were relying on them.
She would not disappoint.
Her fingers entwined with Orin's and she felt a thrill run down her spine at his touch, a shiver of joy ran through the Bond and collided with her soul of liquid brilliance. She reached inside of herself and felt the locks that contained her soul fall away, banished by her Knight's touch as she demanded it to expand, to take over her physical self and transform her into something more, something greater.
She was once more surprised by how easy this all was. Gone were the days when even causing her soul to twitch would be considered a triumph. Now it had become as easy as breathing, just as her father and Annabelle had promised. Her soul jumped to her command, eager to be joined with it's other half so soon after the last Bonding and she felt the expansion pick up the pace.
First was her organs, then her blood and bone, her soul filling her to the brim with light near instantly. Next it went beyond, rising to her skin and consuming her completely. If Elora was pushed to describe this feeling, then she could only say it was akin to slipping into a warm bath after a long day of toil, the feeling of safety, relief and utter contentment. The process was instant and she 'looked' at Orin through newly made eyes. Perhaps it would be better to say sense than look.
Etherin was not something of the physical world. This practice of the Smiths allowed them to contact something greater, to see the world in a way that few could ever hope to do. Annabelle had once told Elora that many Smiths believed that the way they gazed through Etherin was similar to what the Great Spirit saw when looking down upon them. Elora didn't know if that were true or not. What she could say was that it beautiful.
The world became a painted picture of greys, smeared and contorted as if the artist had used big, bombastic strokes to convey the warping of the natural order. Elora could sense the souls of those around them, could see the Elements they would have if they were allowed to become Knights themselves. The band of Boldrin were impressive in that regard and, with the exception of her first Bonding, this was the largest amount of people she had ever been surrounded by while enacting Etherin.
She saw fire and water, light and dark. She saw the earth and the air, metal and more. Each was unique in their shades, even if some shared Elements. It was a kaleidoscope of colour that lit up the drab greys of this painted world..
Then came Orin's, his own flames burning more darkly than any other she could see around her. The black of his fire was great and dwarfed all others she could sense. The power that was emanating from it was undeniable and she could admit to herself, finally, that should she compare it to Cellus' own there would be no comparison to be made at all. Orin was stronger. His flames were greater and that would make compression harder, but in the long run he might even be able to give Vera a run for her money in terms of pure, unadulterated power.
Her soul quivered at the idea of it. Of Orin crossing the battlefield, the shadows following and in his hands shined her Weapon, the one she had forged.
She cut the thought off before it could finish and exerted her will on her soul to force it comply. Souls were moved by emotion, they had no consciousness separate from the person they belonged to. Instead, they were the summation of all they were and could be. Their thoughts and emotions, all of it tangled into a knot of pure instinct. Etherin was a particularly vulnerable state for a Smith as they essentially became one with that instinct and it wanted to do things it's own way, the way it thinks it should be done. If that feeling was strong enough it could even push the Smith into doing something that they would regret. Thankfully, all Elora had to put up with were visions of Orin's battle prowess should she give in and Forge his Weapon. While it was something she had thought about multiple times she knew she couldn't. The Bond couldn't be broken after such a major occurrence and despite knowing that creating the Forge would do much the same thing, she couldn't bring herself to completely give up on her dream of being Cellus' Smith. It was too engrained, she realised, too present in her thoughts. The Forge was one thing, but a Weapon was a whole other monster. Once again she found herself torn, indecisive. Once more she wished that she could speak to her father, for him to hold her as he had when she was small and tell her that everything is going to be okay.
But he wasn't here. Elora was on her own and, like it or not, she was the only Smith they had. If she faltered, if she stumbled, then everything she had known could crumble. She would not allow that to happen. Never.
Elora soared towards Orin's chest, her movement as easy as thought, and aimed for that bright, burning bastion of darkness that beckoned her ever closer, ever deeper into the inscrutable void.
Then came the flash, at the very edges of her senses. Something she had not expected to see, something that made her falter for all of a second. It was light. But no ordinary light: It was like her own. It was liquid water, moving and twisting as she watched it. It appeared to be as strong as hers. No, it looked to be stronger than hers. It was a Smith's soul!
And as she watched it, it looked right back.
Elora sunk beneath the surface of Orin's physical form and appeared in his void, his soul a beacon at it's centre. His silver sparks providing brief bursts of beautiful light in the all encompassing darkness.
What had she seen? Why was a Smith among the Band? Why hadn't they revealed themselves sooner? These questions and more raged through her mind and she wrestled with leaving now and trying to track down this Smith or going about the task at hand. She realised that she had no choice. The Forge needed to be made for the sake of her family, for Orin and all those she cared for back in Myrin. Her Knight had already done the hard part, risking life and limb to help her escape the palace. She had to help him however she could. Besides, a Smith among a band of mercenaries? It was absurd! A Smith being born outside of a Noble house was rare enough, with only a couple of dozen being born in the last century or so and none of those being in Venos. A Smith was born from a Smith, this was a commonly held belief among the peasantry and, indeed, the Nobility themselves. While that was true, Smiths have been known to pop up every now and again among the common people, but are immediately snapped up by the Noble house that holds governance over said people. Usually this catapulted their family into the Nobility along with them. What were the chances of such a profoundly rare existence being a member of this particular band, at this particular time? She must have been seeing things. She would check again once she was finished building her Forge.
She soared through the void and approached Orin's soul, which seemed to purr warmly at her approach. As she had done the last two times she had merged with Orin, she avoided the flickering tongues of flame. Despite the Bond that connected them, she was no safer from the defensive memories of the soul than anyone else and they would try to attack her if she came into contact with them.
Elora carefully navigated the now much tamer flames, impressed with the amount of effort Orin had put into controlling them. They were still a far cry from Cellus or Vera but still, for such a short amount of time to have passed it was impressive nonetheless.
She found the door that Orin had constructed for her soul self in short order. But to call it a door would perhaps not be an apt description. Rather, Elora would call it a wound.
It was a tear in the very heart of his hardened black core, one which led into a blazing land of light that was without form. The jagged edges of the wound wept a black vapour that tangled and twisted into the air before being devoured by Orin's flames. Elora had been concerned when she had first Bonded with Orin and seen such an opening. Thanks to being present when Cellus had constructed his path to his core she knew that this was hardly what it should look like. When she had asked Annabelle after the wedding she had merely said it was fine and brushed the issue aside, stating that while finesse was needed to make sure the opening was smooth, Orin had been able to make do with pure willpower and no knowledge of his soul.
Elora wasn't sure she entirely believed that. It looked like it was in pain, almost like the core itself was screaming at her, and what was that black vapour? It looked... insidious. Like something that should not belong within the very heart of a persons self.
But she couldn't afford to become distracted. Not now, not so close to her goal. She dove through the jagged entrance to Orin's inner soul and was lost in the world of light beyond it.
Suddenly, and all at once, she was surrounded by white. So blinding and all encompassing was it's glare that, had she had eyes, Elora would no doubt be blinded even with closed lids.
This was the essence of Orin, the fabric of his very being. The outer soul, the flames and the core, were a mere defence to protect what lay inside. Compression allowed the core and the flames to become one, strengthening the soul and allowing more Aurum to be produced as a result, something that was the goal of every Knight since the times of The First.
Elora floated in that place, separated, truly and completely, from everyone and everything except for her Knight. Only he mattered in this world of brilliant beauty. She was almost upset that she had to ruin it with her Forge, but it was required. Right now it was all possibility. The building blocks of her Forge lay all around her and all she needed to do was reach out and change it with her Idea.
Out of the corner of her spiritual sight, she noticed the three orbs of her Gifts, gently nestled into the light which seemed to almost solidify around them, small tendrils of Orin's inner soul wrapping around and caressing them gently.
She ran a critical eye over her work and would have grimaced had she still had a physical form. They looked nearly identical but as the craftsman who had made them she could see the differences as easily as those between a lion and a shark.
The Gift of Healing was the smallest of the three, looking worn down and with cracks across it's black surface. At it's very centre was a symbol that resembled a needle with three strokes through it's broad body that shone silver. This symbol was taken from the tongue used by the Scribes, the ancient language from beyond the seas, from the place where humanity took it's first steps.
Learning the language of the ancients had been difficult for Elora, some symbols were harder than others to comprehend. Most had many meanings, some hidden deeper than she could even begin to fathom. She was far from fluent in it's speech. In fact, she believed that there was no one who had a true mastery of the language in it's entirety. To do so would no doubt take hundreds of years and nothing but devoted study. Her teacher in the art, Head Scribe Wenceslas, had freely admitted to her that even he had barely scratched the surface of the true meaning behind the language and he was the head of the Scribes for the entire Kingdom!
When trying to choose a symbol for her Healing Gift she had eventually settled on 'Kolostra' or 'Growth'. It was one of the few that she had actually been able to gain a deeper understanding of during her study. It also meant to preserve, to nurture, to care for. These were the few secrets she had gleaned but despite being praised for her work by her teacher, she still thought her efforts inadequate. Kolostra as a symbol was much more complex than she had first imagined and even that was considered one of the most simple of runes typically used in the creation of Healing Gifts.
If that wasn't hard enough, much like she told Orin, the symbol came secondary to the Idea behind it. The rune was a way to bind her Idea to the Gift and make it work, but the one she had used for Healing had been shallow and without true depth. As a result, the Gift was weaker than would be expected of someone of her standing and breeding.
She hated being bad at something, despite her many flaws.
The second, Thought, had come out much better. Much like the first it was coloured by Orin's Element, so was black with a silver symbol. The one she had used for this particular gift had been 'Mokon' or 'Foresight'. It looked almost vaguely like an eye, with a single line through it's middle. Her understanding of this symbol had been much better, so much so that during her training she had assumed that she would be able to give Cellus a Resonant Thought Gift, instead of the Strength Gift that she had given to Orin. It had been nothing but an empty dream at the time, as Resonant Gifts couldn't just work because of the Smith, but had to be a result of both of the pair in tandem. Both of them together creating something greater than any one could do alone.
Still, she was proud of Mokon and the Idea behind it. While Foresight could be construed as something to do with precognition, that wasn't what Elora was going for. Mokon could also be interpreted as meaning 'ever prepared'. Something that she thought that her Knight could benefit from greatly. The Idea was of awareness, to be constantly alert to your surroundings and everything contained therein. Be it the flapping of a bird's wings, the sound of a sword leaving it's scabbard, or the air being cut by an arrow. Her Knight would know of these things and be able to react to them instantaneously. That was her imperative, her demand.
She had been, and still was, proud of her efforts. But upon looking at it closer, she could see the Idea was not much deeper than Healing, barely breaking average at best. Especially when she compared it to Annabelle's Gift, who had described it to be as deep as an ocean. Elora's felt about as deep as a lake. Still better than the pond's depth that was her Healing Gift, but still not as powerful as she would have liked.
The Gifts would grow, she told herself. As she and Orin worked together they would become more powerful, Healing and Thought growing deeper with more use and as the understanding between them grew.
She would have growled if she had a mouth. Her soul truly was more difficult to control like this, already pushing her to grow stronger, to Bond with Orin more and more. She couldn't allow it to control her. That wasn't the way of a Smith. She was the one at the centre of the web. She was the one with the power, not it.
She turned to finally look at her pride and joy, her unexpected Resonant Gift of Strength.
With the exception of Healing, Strength was the last thing that she thought would Resonant between a Knight and herself. It just wasn't her way. If it was Speed then perhaps she would understand. She was fairly nimble, she supposed, and Orin was incredibly fast in a fight.
But Strength? It was something she had neither wanted nor expected. She knew that it was an important Gift, being one of those most used in battle, but she had always focused her efforts elsewhere, like with the Gift of Thought.
But when she had Bonded with Orin for that first time, surrounded by blood and death as they were, she had needed to be strong, demanded he be strong. But it wasn't the same as with Thought, it wasn't just required, it was needed. She had needed him to stronger than any other Knight who had ever lived; to protect those they loved, to fight against evil, to be a bulwark against it's march. He was to be a mountain taller and more grand than any of the white peaks. He was to tower over all others and crush those who stood in his way. He would do this because she believed it.
True belief was impossible to fake. A Smith could try all they like to make a Gift with such a powerful Idea, but it took the perfect circumstances and a powerful will to make it a reality. Her belief in his strength was as solid as the spires of Myrin. As her love for her family and friends. It was ethereal, a feeling, but as solid as a tree trunk or the hilt of a sword. It could not be denied. It would not be denied.
And it was as deep as the ocean.
Elora could almost feel the raging power behind her Gift, bolstered by her Idea and the rune that bound them together. The orb in which it dwelt was almost twice the size of Healing and half again the size of Thought. It was begging to be used and Elora knew all she had to do was twitch and the power would come and flood Orin with as much as he could bare. But that wasn't good enough. She needed a Forge more than ever for such a powerful Gift. She hadn't told Orin, but the reason they had flown so far after jumping off the palace walls was because she was unable to control her Gift of Strength. It was too eager to be of use, so much so that it sometimes acted even without her directive, using far more Aurum than would normally be considered safe, especially for a pair as young as them.
It hadn't helped that she had used such a powerful rune for the binding. Aroe. It simply meant strength in the language of the ancients, shaped liked a triangle, it's glow near blinding compared to Thought and Healing. She didn't know what had possessed her to use such a powerful rune. Her very first lessons had been that simplicity often led to complication. The simpler the rune the deeper it's meaning and, as a result, almost no Knight she had ever heard of used something like this in their Gift of Strength. To do so without truly understanding it's depths could result in catastrophe. If the rune is stronger than the Idea then they could both collapse, resulting in a damaged Gift that wouldn't be able to do anything, a constant and painful reminder of a Smith's weakness.
But in the moment when she had made it, she had known that her Idea was strong enough. That she was strong enough. Aroe had been the perfect, and only, option for her Knight.
If she could smile at the Gift, she would have. In many ways it was a validation of her prowess as a Smith. Even her mother and father, the most powerful paring she had ever seen, didn't have a Gift so complex. It was her Gift to Orin, for believing in her, for putting his faith in a Princess that he had known for all of five seconds. The fact that the plan was to take it away almost caused her to forcibly eject herself from Orin's soul.
She knew that she would never be able to replicate a Gift so great, so perfect. Even if she and Cellus ever bonded, no Resonant Gift would follow her over. It belonged to Orin, and to her. Them alone.
Elora pushed aside her doubt, pushed aside her sadness of what could have been and spread her hands out wide, stretching her awareness of the spiritual to new levels as she reached out into the vastness of Orin's soul until she touched it's very edges.
It would grow as they grew. She only had to plant the initial seed and, once it took hold, as they battled and Bonded, it would make them stronger, it would allow her to Forge a Weapon and, eventually, Armour. Though, perhaps that could never be.
She called to the seed she had created in her mind for Cellus so many years ago. It was a place that had been special to the two of them since childhood. A rarely used tower on the southern side of the palace, one of the only fragments that remained of the original building before the white marble halls had been constructed. They had played in that place for years as children. Childish and foolish games. It was where she had fallen in love with him. In fact, she had hoped to renovate the tower after they married and live there together.
She hated using it for this. Not because it disrespected Cellus, but because of Orin. He was not the man she loved, he was a person who had been caught up in something that he never should have. She had dragged him into a war he neither wanted nor needed, but she had to construct something she knew. She had studied that tower inside and out in the real world. Symmetry with reality would only help the seed grow and become that much stronger, especially when it was steeped in memories. This was why she had been dreading the Forge's construction. She was disrespecting her Knight with every stone she laid, every memory she implanted into it's foundation. She wept without tears as her Forge began to manifest, looking indistinct, much like a mirage. But it was coming. Her seed was strong and she almost sighed in relief.
The roar echoed around Orin's soul. So great and intense was the shout that Elora raised arms she didn't have to guard herself. The white around her began to pulsate, quickening by the second until it was bright enough to nearly hide her half made Forge from her. Even her Gifts were obscured from her spiritual sight. In that voice she heard nothing but malevolence and hatred. It wasn't Orin's voice, and it wasn't hers. What was that? Annabelle had never mentioned anything like this!
She watched with horror as her Forge faded away, utterly annihilated by whatever had spoken. Elora realised that she couldn't move, her soul self locked in place. All she could do was watch as a new Forge took the place of the old. But stranger than that, it was something she had never seen before.
It was a tower, but nothing like her own. It rose straight into the sky of Orin's soul, the white light around it unbroken but she could not see the bottom. It was black, with elaborate patterns of silver dancing down it's sheer sides. Windows could be seen running it's length, but Elora could see nothing of what lay inside.
Eventually, it's peak took form. It was flat, completely flat and ringed by towers of blackened stone. As soon as they formed, her three gifts flew to their peaks, resting just above the surface of the pillars that had manifested. For some reason, the others looked like a mirage, half there, but shivering and rippling as they were having trouble actually forming physically in this spiritual realm.
Then Elora felt herself move, pulled from the white sky as though by some kind of invisible hand. As she was pulled, she began to take shape. This was the final act of creating the Forge, building a physical self for the Smith, but Elora wasn't doing this! She was merely a passenger in whatever was happening here, despite her struggles to break free. She could not help but feel fear run down her newly made spine. Before she reached the tower's edge, she was fully formed and, as far as she could tell, an exact replica of what she looked like in reality.
She stepped onto the edge of the tower and was suddenly released from her invisible bonds. She was so surprised that she stumbled, not expecting her newly made form to feel so similar to how she felt in reality.
She placed a hand on the ground to steady herself and yanked it back from the cold stone of the tower. It was like ice to the touch. Colder than anything she had ever felt before.
How was this happening?
This was a clear defiance of everything she had been taught since she could understand the concept of souls. What was that voice, which was still echoing in her ears? It was both physical and spiritual, even now she shook like a leaf in her constructed body. A body, she reminded herself, that had been made without any input from her and yet was perfect.
This was wrong. This was all wrong. Annabelle, her father, everyone who had given her any scrap of knowledge on being a Smith had never mentioned a Forge creating itself, nor the presence of any other being inside the inner soul that was sentient, except the Smith.
Had Orin lied to her? All this time together and yet he had never mentioned this? Does this explain why he had such control? Was he stronger than even she realised?
No, she shook her new head at the thought and took note of her blonde hair, the exact shade it was in the physical realm. Orin was not the type to lie about something like this. Perhaps it was too premature to wonder at such things, but he truly wasn't. Orin was straight forward and blunt, much like a hammer. To lie about something like this was beyond him, or beneath him. He would have told her about something like this, and how would it make him stronger?
For the first time since their initial Bonding, Elora was unsure of how to proceed. Why had the voice spoken up now? It clearly protested her Forge, which meant that it at least had some form of sentience, but why had it never spoken to her before? She did realise that both of her previous times in this place had been brief so did that mean that it knew what she was? Did it approve of her? Clearly not the Forge she was about to build, but why? What was the significance in it's shape?
Her father had always told her that the Forge itself was what was important, not the physical form in took. A Forge was meant to handle Aurum consumption and be used in the creation of Weapons and Armour, that was all.
Elora felt the fear drain from her body and a spark of anger took it's place. What was this creature to judge her methods? Whatever it was, it was clearly linked to the soul. Perhaps it was even the soul itself, though she had no record of any that had gained any form of sentience separate from the consciousness.
There was much she didn't know. Annabelle, her mother, her father, Vera. All of them only told her what she needed to know, nothing more and nothing less. For all she knew, this was normal and they had decided not to tell her about because she needed to 'grow through adversity'. That was the line they usually fed her. Or it was restricted by the Hall of Tyra.
She forced herself to focus on her surroundings. Orin cared about her, this she knew, and he wouldn't put her into danger if he could avoid it. He would have told her if he knew about something like this which brought forth another mystery. Orin has something in his soul that Elora didn't recognise. She was out of her depth and knew too little about the Bond and how it truly worked. He was relying on her to guide him on the path of Knighthood. She needed to learn more, at least as much as she was able. Perhaps it spoke?
“Hello? Is anyone there?” Elora called out, the words sounding strange in the endless white of the inner soul. They seemed to echo into eternity.
The tower on which she found herself standing was beautiful in a rather ominous way. She could see the three orbs that represented her Gifts floating slightly above the three clear pillars that ringed the towers peak. The rest of them, seven in total, appeared to still be hazy and indistinct.
The floor of the pillar looked like black marble, but felt like rock from her brief touch of it's surface. She then noticed the lines. Five thin rivers of silver metal that ran from the edges of the tower's sheer drop and into it's centre. They formed a five pointed star and seemed to pulsate to some unseen rhythm.
At the centre of the star was some kind of altar, pearly white and shining, made of the same kind of stone as the tower though an opposite shade. She walked up to this altar as bravely as she could, fighting back the hesitation that would swallow her if she missed a single step, and came to stand beside it. The altar came up to her waist and, she noticed, had a hand print embedded upon it's surface. If she was to hazard a guess, that particular adornment was for her.
“Elora? Are you alright?” She jumped at the sound of Orin's voice suddenly echoing through the inner soul.
“Orin? Can you hear me?” Elora shouted, spinning away from the pillar, staring up and into the white sky overheard. Of course he would respond to her. He always did. For some reason she had thought that speaking physically required some kind of activation, unlike when she was present in her spiritual form.
“Of course I can hear you. Are you alright? Everything felt... strange for a second there.”
“I-I'm fine,” Elora hesitated, she needed to tell him what she had heard, “We have some good news. It seems we have a Forge!”
Orin chuckled, “I knew you could do it. So what's the trouble? Come on up.”
“That's not the only news,” Elora hesitantly replied. “I heard a voice, Orin! A voice that wasn't you or me.”
Orin was silent for a moment and Elora thought she had lost him before he finally responded. “A voice? Was it my soul? Can a soul talk?”
“I don't know,” Elora replied helplessly. “Everything I've been told said it can't, but I know I heard something!”
It was then that she noticed the throne. How she hadn't seen it before, she couldn't say, but suddenly it was there, standing behind the altar which she had stood at a second before. Sheer black steps led upwards to a seat of such size that two of Elora would be able to sit side by side upon it. The steps were the same colour as the tower, but the throne was the same shade of endless darkness that could be seen in the flames of Orin's outer soul.
It looked like someone at some point had tried to cut the throne in half, as part of it looked to have been hacked away at it's very top, giving it a jagged and menacing appearance. Stranger still was the glow of silver stars that shone upon it's surface, each shining incandescently and moving around seemingly at random. It was beautiful. It was terrifying.
It was hers.
This she knew. Even as she looked upon it she knew that this throne belonged to her. It was where she ruled this Forge from. But how did she know that? Her soul told her, somehow. She could feel her own inner self seek to sit upon it with such overwhelming desperation that Elora had to physically take a step back. It was made all the harder to resist when she was in the state of Etherin and this was no exception.
“What is going on?!” Elora screamed, panic was beginning to set in and she began to walk backwards faster, breathing heavily, her vision becoming faint. Everything was beginning to hit her all at once. There was a wrongness about that throne. It was tainted. Something had gone horribly wrong.
“Elora? Elora!” Orin's shouting went unheeded, Elora was losing herself in this place, this space of infinity that touched the edges of the spiritual world. She needed to get out. She wanted to get out!
She touched one of the indistinct pillars, her arm brushing against it accidentally in her rush to escape the pull of the black throne.
For a moment there was silence, nothing moved, nothing twitched. Elora couldn't even breathe. All she saw was the wisps of that unseen pillar touch her and then, in a single moment, she found herself repelled, thrown backwards and away with a speed that would have immediately killed her had she been mortal. She was thrown out and back into the black of Orin's outer soul, turning immediately back into her spiritual self. Landing squarely in the unwelcoming embrace of his black flames.
The boy was crying, lying on the ground, his arms tightly wrapped around his small body as he whimpered, trying to make himself small, unseen. It didn't work.
The whip came down, again and again and again. It didn't stop, it wouldn't stop. It pulled flesh from the boy's body as he silently cried out. The man behind the whip had been at this for a while and he was having fun. The enjoyment was clear upon his face. He loved this, he wanted this. He wanted to make the boy scream.
“You wanted work, didn't you boy?” The monster laughed, his face contorted in an expression of deranged glee. “You last the whole night and you get ten whole coppers.”
The boy was crying, but he was too weak to respond so he merely nodded his head at the man and tried to curl up even tighter. He needed anything he could get, anything to help the Sister, to help the others. Anything. He would do anything for his family.
“Please don't show me this.”
Ten coppers was more money than the boy had seen in his entire life. It would help them. The Sister would be so proud of him. He smiled faintly, the light fading in his eyes as the man brought down the whip again and again and again.
The whipping continued and after a while the boy couldn't cry anymore, all his tears were gone. As the man put down the whip and picked up the bat, the boy thought about how proud the Sister would be. How much he would help her. He didn't want to be a burden.
A sword cut through the dark and light blossomed. The shades of the man and the boy faded away and Elora felt arms wrap around her spiritual self, pulling her free of the nightmare and back into the waking world. Like a drowning woman desperate to reach the surface, Elora burst free from Orin's chest and back into the packed wagon with a thud.
“Elora, are you-” Orin didn't get a chance to finish his sentence before she threw herself at his chest, burying her face and wrapping her trembling arms around him, pulling him as close as she could manage without Etherin.
“Orin... It was...” Elora cried, her words strangled behind a veil of tears and sobs.
“Hush now,” Orin whispered, wrapping his arms around her and holding her. “It was just a memory.”
That made Elora cry all the more and pull him closer, trying to stop the pain, trying to stop the hurt before it ever happened, knowing that all the comfort in the world couldn't give back what was taken away.
“It was just a memory.”