Fan fiction:Winds of the Kae Huron/Chapter 11: The Valley of Whispers
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Winds of the Kae Huron is a fan fiction piece by Nephilim, originally posted in the Diii.net Fan Fiction Forum. The fiction series was reposted on January 29th 2004. You can find more information on Winds of the Kae Huron article.
Chapter 11: The Valley of Whispers
M'avina had absolutely no desire to spend the night in that cave. She would have rather stayed in the cold than come inside and spend it here. She protested only once, saying that perhaps more goatmen were in the area and could come back in the night, but she didn't really believe that. But in that cave, there was nothing but despair, hopelessness, and futility.
They had taken down Alaric and buried him in the courtyard. The demons, they threw out into the snow.
But if Vidala had been there, Alaric would have been helping them dispose of the dead, and would not have been one of them.
M'avina stood at the very mouth of the cave, watching the wind blow the snow to cover up the disfigured corpses of the goatmen. Her breath misted into the air, and was swept away by the gale.
She realized that Caden had joined her several minutes after he did. He was a quiet walker, unlike most of his people. But even when she sensed his presence, she didn't speak.
"I'm sorry you lost one of your own," she told him quietly after some time.
Caden sighed. "He was more one of your own than mine. You battled against the Evils together for months. That makes you like brothers."
M'avina raised an eyebrow at him.
"Brother and sister," he corrected himself with a mirthless smile. He took a step forward so that he was standing beside her.
"I remember," M'avina said after a long pause, "once, in Lut Gholein," she chuckled, "we met this man in a pub. Big guy, taller than Kaelim. He loved Barbarians. I heard that he'd once been a warrior himself, and he admired the skills of your people to no end."
"Kaelim didn't usually pay much attention to him, and I don't even know if Bohdan ever met him. Hoku kept to himself all the time. But Alaric was the one who sat down with him and traded war stories. They stayed up once all night, talking. I mean, this guy wasn't taking the troubles too well, and had seen the bottom of one too many mugs, to say the least. But that night really meant something to him. Every time I ever had my doubts about Alaric, I thought about that man in the pub."
Caden nodded. "He was a good man. Scyld always thought so."
M'avina brushed a tear away from her eye before it trickled down her face.
For a minute, there was no sound but the howling wind sweeping past the mouth of the cave, then Caden took another step towards her, and reached up, putting a hand on her shoulder. "What happened here. You know it wasn't your fault."
She lied with a nod.
"Alaric came out here knowing it could be dangerous - we all did. You can't assume that . . ."
"I know, Caden," she interrupted him. "It's all right, I don't assume that everything is my fault. I'm not that much of a child." She felt like she was condemning her own feelings. "What about you," she asked, changing the subject, "why are you here? I know that you don't put any stock in all this prophecy."
Caden sighed, folding his arms. "That's true, despite Scyld's objections. But I came because I felt that they needed someone who didn't believe every word of scripture."
M'avina shook her head, "I could never see the world making sense without the Gods."
Caden shrugged. "I have more faith in Man than that, I guess. I feel that we can make our own destiny without any Gods."
M'avina chuckled, glad to be talking of something other than Alaric. "Man has the habit of not meriting faith."
Caden laughed with a nod, and then turned. "To each his own, I guess. Good night M'avina."
"Good night, Caden."
Despite her spiritual discomfort, it was the best sleep she had had since they left Harrogath. She did dream, and they were fitful dreams, but she did not remember them when she awoke the next morning.
The breakfast was small, but was nourishing. Arcanna melted enough snow to fill their canteens and skins, and they left the cave with little ceremony. After a comical chase, Hoku caught a pika and they kept it for later use. It gave them something light-hearted to talk about as they continued their journey.
M'avina was laughing along with several others at Bohdan's exaggerated reenactment when they crested a wide hill. She wiped a tear from her eye, and noted, as her voice subsided, that everyone else had grown silent.
Kaelim, at the front of the party, looked down into what lay before them. His face was grim and serious, as were all the Barbarians. The foreigners had apparently just followed the lead.
On either side of the canyon were hills that rose up into inhospitable precipices, topped with jagged ice and stone. But the valley itself was obscured by an unmoving fog that stretched for miles. It became one with the sky. The end of the valley was not visible.
Kaelim took a deep breath, sighed inevitably, and began to descend into the fog.
Scyld was quick to his side. "We can go around," she whispered hastily. But none of the party were speaking, and the sound of the clattering armour and cloth was not enough to drown out her words.
"It's too dangerous," Kaelim returned, shaking his head, "particularly for those who weren't raised in the mountains. Besides, it will take days to go around. This will do fine."
"We don't how dangerous the Valley might be," Scyld replied, quieter - but still not quiet enough.
"It is a chance we'll have to take," said Kaelim. "You know this."
Scyld spoke no more.
M'avina maneuvered herself beside Caden and Bohdan. "What's the big deal about this valley?"
Bohdan made to reply, but the shorter Barbarian spoke first. "It's about the legends of our people," he said, in a rather pretentious tone. He got that way whenever he talked about the Barbarian faith. "When you die, we believe that, if you have lead a just life, you join the Nephalem in Bul-Kathos's eternal kingdom. The Ancient Ones are those Nephalem who Bul-Kathos sends back to Sanctuary to perform certain tasks. But, there are some dead who remain in Sanctuary nonetheless without the leave of Bul-Kathos. Their deaths were under such circumstances as to drive them mad - extremely violent or tragic or involving hellish powers is usually the case. We call them the Mad Ancients."
M'avina certainly didn't like where this was going.
"The true Ancients," Bohdan continued the story, "are said to have once scoured the land for the Mad Ancients, and rounded them up. Bul-Kathos took pity on them, and rather than destroy them or send them to Hell, he had the Ancients imprison them in a mountain vale, enshrouded in thick mists so that they may never find their way out. It came to be known as the Valley of Whispers."
M'avina didn't need to be told that what lay before them was the legendary vale. Every time they encountered such an obstacle, she wondered if perhaps this was the fate of Theodoric's party. She voiced her concerns to Caden and Bohdan.
Caden rolled his eyes. "It's just legend, M'avina."
"Well, if it's more than that," said Bohdan, "it's still all right. The Mad Ancients are not outright hostile, per se. But their words are said to be rather poignant."
"What does that mean?" asked M'avina.
"They are said to drive the weak of heart equally mad," said Bohdan. "But Bul-Kathos knew that one day his people would need to cross it to reach Nulholla Peak, so he wouldn't have doomed his most loyal followers."
M'avina felt a little better.
"Not that any of that matters," Caden added.
Bohdan sighed. "How can you not believe even after the battle on the Summit?"
"I believe that there are forces in this world that we can't account for," Caden admitted. "But I think it's childish to believe stories our ancestors made up to try and explain them."
"Shhh!" said Kaelim from the front of the column. They were mere inches from the wall of fog before them. It was heavy and motionless. M'avina had the impression that if she moved her hand through it, it would leave a trail.
Kaelim turned around. "Everyone partner up again. Link arms, hold hands, or whatever you want. Just keep in physical contact for the duration. We won't be able to see an inch in front of our noses, and I don't want anyone getting lost in there."
Before M'avina had a chance to look for her, Arcanna took M'avina by the wrist. Bohdan begrudgingly sought out Kinemil and put a hand on his shoulder, and Caden latched on to the end of Scyld's leather jack. Since Alaric's death, Jabari had become part of Kaelim's group, with Ume. Both he and the Necromancer put a hand on Kaelim's shoulder.
Kaelim took a deep breath, "All right," he said, "don't go towards any strange lights or sounds. Just keep walking until we come out the other side."
M'avina glanced at Caden. "What the hell does that mean?"
He replied be shaking a bemused head. "Don't worry about anything, you'll do fine."
Arcanna shrugged. "Just don't let go of me, all right? If there is anything in there, we'll face it together."
Kinemil nodded, glancing at Bohdan. "They have the right idea, Barbarian." He turned back towards the valley. "Keep my in you sight always, the Light will guide my path. Simply step in my tracks." Bohdan rolled his eyes but said nothing.
M'avina chuckled to herself, noting that Bohdan's feet were exceptionally larger than Kinemil's. With the exception of Caden, all the Barbarians dwarfed every other man in the party.
Kaelim, Ume, and Jabari disappeared into the indifferent fog. M'avina clasped her hand in Arcanna's and, in spite of herself, closed her eyes as she stepped into the Valley of Whispers.
She was surprised at how little she felt the fog. It was only a light, cool mist on her face, not the choking, dense cloud that had enveloped her. The world became light-gray and featureless. She could hear the movement of those around her, and looking to the side, she could vaguely make out the shape of Arcanna's head, and her tall staff tied to her back.
No one was speaking. She could only hear the armour clinking with every step, and the furs brushing together. But soon, that simply became one with the noiselessness. M'avina felt almost like saying something just to break the silence, but then she realized that she didn't really mind the silence. M'avina didn't like walking blind. She always had the tendency to strafe to the right. She had found that out during a training session once on Skovos. After it had finished, Vidala had patted her on the back and said, "Well . . . let's just hope you don't ever go blind, all right?"
M'avina smiled at the fond memory.
Then she heard something.
She didn't stop. She waited first for a reaction from Arcanna. She looked to the side and could not even see the Sorceress, the fog was suddenly so thick. But she did hear something. It took her only a moment to know it was a voice. A soft, female voice, humming a tune M'avina did not know. She never even considered the possibility that it was one of their party. She knew immediately that she was hearing the whispers for which the valley was named.
"Arcanna . . ." M'avina whispered, noting suddenly that she couldn't hear the sounds of others around her.
M'avina snapped her hand away suddenly. It was not Arcanna's voice that spoke to her. She stared through the fog at the shadow before her, and Caden stared back.
"Where's Scyld?" Caden asked.
"I was holding onto Arcanna," M'avina replied quickly.
They would have probably continued to question the strange occurrence, if not for the voice that seemed much clearer, now. They saw a light before them. Without a word to one another, they took a few tentative steps forward. Caden placed a hand on one of his daggers, but M'avina never thought to remove her bow from across her back.
As of they had willed it so, the fog parted. Before them was a woman, sitting on a stool, rocking back and forth, gently crooning to a bundle in her arms. She was wearing a simply, plain dress, and her hair was short and frazzled. That, and her dirt-smudged face, marked her as a peasant. But despite her appearance, her skin shimmered, and the colours were brighter than M'avina thought possible. Except for the bundle in her arms. It was dull and worn, as colourless as the fog that surrounded them, watching intently. She was singing in a language that M'avina didn't know, but the woman didn't know half the words, and hummed over lines she could not recall.
Caden took a step forward, looking at M'avina for approval, but the Amazon's attention was fully on the ghost - for they both knew that is what she was - before them.
Caden cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he said nervously.
The woman stopped humming and looked at them both for a moment. She put a finger to her lips. "Shh . . ." she said quietly. "He's . . ." her voice became broken by restrained grief, "he's asleep."
"What's his name?" asked M'avina softly. The woman looked at M'avina, and a bright tear streamed down her cheek, but she didn't answer.
Caden inched forward, his hand off of his dagger. The ghost did not respond, she just stroked the edge of her bundle. M'avina moved quietly to Caden's side.
"May I see him?" Caden gently requested.
The woman nodded, trying desperately to hold in her tears, and turned the bundle so that they could see his face. There was a baby in that bundle, which was more than M'avina expected. But he was a skeleton, long dead, grey and dusty from age. M'avina was no pathologist, but she would have put decades on that huddled figure wrapped in a ruined blanket.
M'avina felt a wave of pity sweep over her.
Caden looked up at the woman, who was staring at his face, her eyes glassy with tears. She shook her head slowly. "He's not waking up, is he?"
Caden looked down at the skeletal baby in her arms, then back at her. "No, ma'am, he isn't."
The woman nodded in understanding, gazing down at her child. With a sigh, she stood up, handed the baby to Caden, and walked between him and M'avina, a hand to her head.
"I should have known . . ." she muttered, and then she disappeared into the fog.
M'avina and Caden were alone. The stool was gone. Caden looked at the dead baby in his arms. He held him with care - the way a mother would. M'avina was glad that he respected the dead enough to handle him gently.
"What do I do with him?" asked Caden.
"Should we leave it for her?" asked M'avina.
Caden shook his head. "We can't just leave him here."
M'avina agreed, and felt a little embarrassed for the suggestion. "Let's keep walking," she suggested, "we can meet up with everyone outside the Valley." She started off, then paused, and turned back. "Keep me in your sight," she advised.
Caden nodded, and followed closely behind her. His shoulder kept on hitting hers. At first she found it annoying, but she figured that the continued reassurance that he was there was better than them getting lost again.
They heard more whispers now, from all over. Most were in the old language the woman had sung with. Sometimes, a piercing scream issued from the mists, and M'avina would stop abruptly, and feel Caden bump into her from behind. Then, they would communally hope that it was one of the ghosts, and not one of their own. Every now and then, though, she heard the whispers in languages she could understand.
"Get out of my house, you thief!" one stark voice came at her as if the source was at her very ear. But when she looked, of course, there was nothing.
"And why should I trust you?"
"Please! Come back! Don't leave me here!"
"Do you even know who I am? Do you even know what I've done?"
"Fools. I should be so lucky."
"I will never stop hurting you."
But they saw no ghosts for some time. M'avina realized that she had no idea just how long this valley was, and he had no way to tell if they were nearing the end of it. No one had told her anything. Apparently they had not expected to get separated.
They soon saw another blurry light ahead and to their left.
"Just keep walking," Caden suggested, "we'll go right past it."
M'avina nodded, and continued to walk. As they neared the ghost, though, they could make out a vague shape. M'avina glanced fleetingly at it, but paid it no specific heed, afraid she might be seized by some enchantment.
But Caden halted, and peered at the shape. M'avina stopped. "Caden, come on."
"By Bul-Kathos . . ." Caden whispered in awe. M'avina had never heard him use their god's name in such a way. She stopped and looked at the ghost, who they could both see clearly, now. He was an elderly man, pale, and robed in grey and brown furs. There was station to him, of that there was no doubt in M'avina's mind.
Caden took a step towards him. The ghost was not paying attention to them, and had not seen them, apparently. M'avina jerked when Caden moved, but she didn't stop him, out of curiosity more than anything else.
"Ord Rekar?" Caden asked.
The ghost turned to him. Watching the short, slight Barbarian and the tall, thin elder in contrast gave her a true appreciation of how vibrant the colours and lights of his shimmering image was. The ghost smiled. "Little Caden."
Caden rushed forward, before M'avina could stop him, and embraced Rekar with one arm, minding the dead child. The Elder, surprised, chuckled, and slapped Caden on the back. "Oh, it's so good to see you. All of you."
"You've seen the others?" asked M'avina, forgetting momentarily what she was talking to.
"Yes," Ord Rekar nodded as Caden took a step back. "Scyld, and Hollis, and many others. I don't know all of them. Most of them, like you, I don't know. Who are you?" he asked it with a smile.
She replied formally. His station seemed to merit it. "I am M'avina, daughter of Lysippe and Demetrus, of . . ."
"Lycander?" he peered at her intently. "No, Skovos. You must be from Skovos. Your accent is unmistakable." He looked at Caden. "Amazons? They don't get much farther south than that." His eyes turned back to M'avina. "I am very glad to know that your people were here to help us. I always admired them."
M'avina glanced from Rekar to Caden, and back again. "Do you know this man, Caden?"
"Yes," Caden was beaming. "He's Ord Rekar, one of Harrogath's Elders. He was my mentor in my youth. Only . . ." he stopped, glancing at the ghost, "I remember him less happy."
Ord Rekar laughed aloud. "Maybe, but what has one to feel sad about now? Baal is no more and our people are free. Haven't you heard, my boy?"
Caden nodded haltingly. "Y-yes, Rekar. I helped."
The elder laughed again. "Of course. Of course you did. We all did. That's why we were ever here, after all. That's why Bul-Kathos chose us to guard the mountain, isn't it?" he chuckled.
Caden's smile was fading. "You never believed. . ."
Rekar's grin subsided, as well. "And I know that such is what I taught you, Caden, but . . ." he sighed, and looked up at the sky, and in the mists, every angle brought the same grey cloud. "I realized, before my time came, what we meant. There is a purpose, Caden. To everything. I know that now. Even you."
Caden took a step back. M'avina moved towards him. "Caden, what's wrong?"
"Why are you in the Valley of Whispers?" asked Caden.
Rekar looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I don't know, Caden. But there is a purpose to that, too. But you, my boy, you have so much potential. You are in line for great things. I had seen that in my life, too, but I didn't know what it meant."
Caden had a confused look on his face. "Do you now?"
Rekar stared at him. "If I did," he said slowly, at a whisper, "would you want to?"
Caden said nothing, but looked down at the dead baby in his arms. When he looked up, Rekar was already plodding into the fog.
Caden held up a hand, "Wait!" he called. But even his cry lacked force. M'avina wasn't sure if he really wanted him to stop. Rekar looked back, a half-smile on his face, but made no gesture and said no word as the fog swallowed him up once more.
Caden said what M'avina thought. "We should get moving." They held hands and began to walk again. M'avina hoped that they hadn't lost their bearings. She noted that Caden still held the child.
M'avina pondered what she had just witnessed, and realized that she was not entirely sure what had happened. They had lost direction, again, and M'avina had no concept of distance. She could be on the edge of a cliff, or next to a rock face.
But she continued on in the direction she was fairly certain they'd been traveling before. Caden was walking faster than before. Perhaps to distance himself from the familiar phantom.
Soon, Caden was leading M'avina, and she rushed to keep pace. Some time passed, with no word between them, and no sound from the fog, other than their footsteps falling on the soft, unbroken snow.
"Caden," she said finally, "what's wrong?"
Caden slowed, and turned to look at her. "I . . ."
And suddenly, they were out of the fog. It seemed to retreat behind them, with them barely moving. The light came from a single source - the sun - rather than the indirect luminescence surrounding them in the fog. And behind them, the slowly-undulating wall of mist stood. The canyon opened up into more welcoming paths to tread, but those paths had yet to be forged, for theirs were the only footsteps that broke the perfect, ivory dunes gleaming in the noonday sun.
Caden never finished his sentence.
"We'd best wait for them," said M'avina after they had stood in silence for a few minutes.
Caden nodded, and then walked to the rock face nearest them, right where the fog ended, and buried the dead baby in the snow.
And then, with little ceremony, the whispers faded into the wind.
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