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Coming of Age

Started by Bowsmith, July 05, 2009, 01:33:34 PM

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Coming of Age

Chrisana skipped home happily, a freshly picked bunch of wildflowers clutched in her hand. The sun hung low in the western sky, and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. She smiled, because today was her birthday, and tonight there would be dancing, music and feasting to celebrate her coming of age. At 16 years old, Chrisana was well on her way to becoming a lovely young woman. She stopped skipping for a moment and blushed. Perhaps Pers, that handsome son of the village blacksmith, would ask her to dance tonight. Silly goose, she scolded herself, you're not the only one having a birthday today. It's Helmer's day as well.

Chrisana had lived in the village with her aunt and uncle, as long as she could remember. Her parents, both scholars of some sort, had died in a house fire when she was just a baby. Her aunt and uncle were nice enough, if a little withdrawn and quiet. She always thought it was her parents death that made them so quiet, but she never asked.

She paused at the wooden gate of her home, and looked down on the village. Already she could see the tables and benches being set out for tonight's feast. Brago, the tavernkeeper, was wrestling a large keg of ale onto its stand, aided by several laughing young men who wanted to be among the first to "test" the freshly tapped keg.

Looking around, she admired her home town. It was a small farming village, nothing that special, but she loved it here. From her front gate, she could see the town square, all the way to the miller's home, its waterwheel turning slowly, spraying sparkling drops into the setting sunlight.

Unbidden, her gaze traveled downstream from the miller's, coming to rest on what the townspeople called "The Old Hole". It was an ancient sinkhole that the stream fell into, forming a smallish lake at the bottom. An ancient lightning struck oak crowned the rim of the hole. The villagers avoided the area, because it was said to be enchanted, or haunted, or both, depending on who you asked, and how deep in their cups they were at the time. But at times, always at night, flickering lights in the tree and strange piping sounds were seen and heard coming from the area. She shuddered a bit and went inside.

"Aha! There's the special girl at last!" her uncle called as she came in. "We thought you'd forgotten your day, or run off with a handsome lad, like say, Pers!" He grinned. Chrisana blushed again. She'd not thought her family had known about her crush on Pers.

"Hush your teasing, husband." her aunt chided gently. "Today is a most special day for young Chrisana. Don't embarrass the girl." Her uncle and aunt shared a veiled look that Chrisana didn't understand. They did that from time to time.

"Look here, Chrisana." her auntie said, shaking out the cloth she'd been sewing. "What do you think?" She stood, holding out a dress made of shimmering white cloth. Taken aback, Chrisana gasped. "Auntie, it's beautiful! Is it...." she hesitated.

Her aunt gave a small laugh. "Yes child, it's yours. I thought you should have something special to wear on a day like today."

Chrisana clutched the dress to her bosom and gave a twirl, the dress flaring around her. She was surprised and delighted, since money was always tight, and they didn't have much to spare on fancy or frivolous things.

The night of the party was perfect. The moon rose high, and along with the lamps posted around the town square, illuminated the square in a soft glow. Everyone feasted, drank, and caroused well into the night. Chrisana even managed to get Pers to dance with her twice, despite his embarrassingly clumsy footwork.

As midnight rolled around people began to prepare for the coming of age ceremony. The youngsters below the age of 16 were bundled off to bed, forbidden to know or see anything of the rite until it was their turn, and those few of up to 18 years staying in the houses to make sure the youngsters stayed abed and didn't sneak out.

Chrisana had not had much to drink that eve, despite her aunt and uncles (and everyone else it seemed), proclamation that she was a grown up now, and this was a celebration, and she should drink up. It seemed that no matter where she went in the square that eve, someone was handing her a tankard of ale, or a mug of mulled wine. But she was too busy dancing and watching Pers to drink much, and as a result, was quite sober. And when her aunt and uncle sat her down to explain the coming ceremony to her, she could see Helmer's family doing the same a few tables away. Helmer, who never had seen a tankard he didn't like, seemed like he was trying to tell his parents he didn't want another ale. While she couldn't hear what was being said, she could tell that his father was getting angry, and spoke sharply to Helmer, who tucked his chin to his chest in a sort of resigned pout, nodded back. His father said something to Helmer's mother, who handed him a tankard. Just then, her uncle spoke sharply to her, and she snapped her attention back to what she was being told. "Yes, uncle, I understand.", she said, not really sure what he had been saying, but it seemed to mollify him. She snuck a glance over at Helmer again, only it seemed he was nodding over his tankard now, half asleep. It was then that she saw a vial in his mothers hand, rapidly disappearing into her sleeve. What was in that vial? she wondered. She glanced away as Helmer's father turned his gaze on her.

Her uncle was speaking to her again. "...and you simply MUST have another cup of wine Chrisana. It's the tradition of the coming of age ceremony. Here, drink this." And he handed her a mug of mulled wine. She snuck a glance at Helmer, now standing shakily in his white outfit, supported mostly by his father. The wine had a more acrid scent than it usually did, and as she looked at her aunt, she caught a glimpse of green flashing between the fingers of her clasped together hands. Drugged! They've drugged Helmer, she thought, and they are trying to drug me as well! Why?

Her uncle thrust the mug towards her again, an angry scowl beginning to form on his face. She took the mug and pretended to sip, not knowing what else to do, but knowing she should not drink the tainted wine. Act like Helmer did when he drank, she thought. After a moment, she set the mug aside, put her hand to her head, and let her head fall forward as if she were falling asleep.

With her eyes closed, she could hear her uncle say to someone, "Watch her. Take them both to the hole and prepare. We'll meet you there when we are ready." and his footsteps trailed away. Rough, strong hands took hold of her, and helped her to her feet. She stumbled along like a sleepwalker, barely peeking through her lashes at the ground before her. She couldn't see who was supporting her and helping her along, but as they moved, she could hear them begin a low chanting, and knew them by their voices. Hoggar, the miller, with his rich baritone, was on her left, and Brago, with his rough and husky voice, was on her right. Around her, as they moved, others took up the chant, falling into place behind them in a sort of processional. She knew all their voices, even to her dismay, Pers among them.

Chrisana allowed her head to loll drunkenly upwards, in order to get a glimpse of where they were going. She could see that several oil lanterns with green colored lenses had been hung in the branches of the dead oak tree, probably by the two hooded and robed figures standing at the shoreline.

As she and Helmer were brought before the figures, they were allowed to sink to their knees. Chrisana felt, rather than saw, the crowd of villagers spreading in a half circle behind her. The hooded figures raised their arms and took up the chant, then began adding their own counterpoint to it, their words rife with hissed sibilants and sharp, high pitched sounds that made no sense. At first. She became aware of a suffused green glow in the water, quickly growing larger. Something was rising from the depths of the lake, something huge.

The chanting of the group reached a crescendo and fell silent. They waited, open mouthed like simpletons, gazing out at the center of the lake. The glow spread, growing brighter by the moment. One by one, as if entranced, the townspeople fell to their knees, leaving Chrisana and Helmer the only ones standing.

She felt it before it broke the surface of the lake, something crawling like rotten worms over the surface of her mind. Finally, when the dreadful thing thrashed its way to the surface in a froth of slime and glowing water, Chrisana almost swooned at the sight of it. It was a horrific thing, fully 30 feet long. A glowing, greenish grey slime enveloped its bulk, and the waters surrounding it, and more of the filth pumped from pulsing spiracles on it's body. Three bulging red eyes, arranged vertically, glared at the people on shore with menace and contempt, in equal parts. Four rope like tentacles thrashed, pulling the creature into the shallows, almost beaching itself.

The crawling sensation in Chrisana's head intensified, driving her to her knees. Unbidden, strange images began to play themselves out on her mind's eye. She saw cyclopean cities, carved from living rock, far, far, underwater, dim places barely lit by eldritch fires. Strange rites and rituals played out before her unseeing eyes, men, women, and children being sacrificed in savage horrific rites, surrounded by dozens of the same type of creature writhing in her lake. Among the flashing images, she became aware of the creature's identity. It was Aboleth. Not THE Aboleth, or an Aboleth, but Aboleth, the sum total of all its kind, all the knowledge and evil of countless eons passed down to exist in this creature, at this time. And she saw that it did not exist alone, but that they were legion, it's race spanning the length and breadth of the world, living in the dark and secret places under the world, away from the sight of man and the burning, cleansing rays of the sun. And she knew its arrogance, it's contempt for the lesser races like humans. "We....we're like sheep to them, or less than sheep. Things to be used, and cast aside without thought," she realized.

While seeing all of this horror, a strange pressure began building behind Chrisana's eyes. Not painful, but a sort of mental pressure, a headache without the ache. The more she resisted the mental intrusion of the creature, the stronger the pressure in her head, building, building, until she thought her head might burst like an overripe melon.

As the creature grounded itself in the shallows, her aunt and uncle bowed to it, prostrating themselves on the sand, but being careful to avoid contact with the slime lapping the shore. The creatures three crimson eyes stopped their independent scanning of the gathered townspeople, and focused on her relatives. It's tentacles ceased their flagellations, and settled in front of the creature in a close approximation of a human haughtily crossing it's arms. Then it "spoke", it's voice a mental projection oozing through all of their minds. Chrisana gagged at the mental intrusion, feeling like a vast infection had just sloshed from one side of her brain to the other.

"It is time. Present to me my tribute, my slaves. As agreed to by your grandsires grandsire, the best of your youth are to be given to me, freely, so that you may cower in your pathetic hovels instead of my dragging you ALL down into the depths to be my slaves, and I keep you hidden from those who might wish you harm. You may begin."

Chrisana heard her aunts voice quavering as she spoke aloud to the noisome beast. "Great one, forgive us, but at this time we have only two to bring before you. No new children have been born to the village in many years now. But the ones we present to you are strong and in the prime of their youth, and will serve you well." She turned and gestured to the villagers holding the semi conscious Helmer. Apprehension showing on their faces, the dragged the young man towards the beast, laying him at the edge of the water. One of the creatures eyes swiveled in its socket to consider him. "It is good." was all the creature said. Then it surged forward to wrap one of it's tentacles around Helmer. At it's ghastly touch, the young man returned to his senses and screamed, a high, keening sound that turned into a gurgle. At the monsters touch, Helmer's skin began to change. Painfully. Where once lay skin bronzed by the sun and roughened by hard labor, now was replaced by a slimy, odious covering not unlike that of the creature holding him while he struggled. As she watched, the ooze spread rapidly over the young mans limbs, across his body, and finally, up his neck and over his head. Gasping, the transformed Helmer fell forward into the sheath of slime surrounding the monster and was lost from sight.

Chrisana was shocked motionless by the sight, until the Aboleth's eyes began their individual search again, and her aunt turned and gestured for Chrisana to be brought forward.
Feeling the rough hands tighten on her arms, and knowing what fate lay before her, she threw off all pretense of stupor, and tore herself loose from her captors. "Stop her!" she heard her aunt cry.

In her head, she felt the thrust of the Aboleth's mind lancing into hers, trying to force her to comply. At it's mental touch, the pressure that had been building up in her head seemed to explode, forcing the unwanted contact away, out of her mind, and blocking it from re-entering. Outside her mind, on the shore, the Aboleth exploded into a fury, it's psychic bellow smashing across the collected townspeople, driving several to their knees. "YOU DARE!!" It thundered into their heads. "You DARE try and send one with the powers of the mind against ME?! I ordered them all SLAIN!!"
Her aunt, one of the few still on her feet, made placating gestures to the beast. "Please, we did not know, great one! We had no idea! The child...her parents...we killed them as you ordered, but the child never showed any signs of being like them! Master, pleaAIEEEEAAHHH!!!" She screamed as the beast grabbed her with two of its tentacles and flung her against the rocks. Chrisana heard her skull shatter, but couldn't look away from the Aboleth, which was using its other appendages to drag itself closer to her. Inside her mind, she was fending off the hammer blows of the beasts mental attacks. She had to do something, soon, or her walls were going to break down, and it would have her, body and soul. So in desperation, she reached out with her mind, in a way she had never thought of doing before, searching for a weapon to use against the beast.

Around her, a wind had sprung up around Chrisana, swirling and gaining intensity. The villagers scattered, as much as to escape the nascent whirlwind as the rampaging Aboleth. Sand, rocks, and other light debris began rising into the air, forming a fragile barrier between the two, echoing the fight going on in their minds. A trickle of blood began oozing from one of her nostrils.
The Aboleth continued it's mental assault, but was now within tentacle reach and began flailing at her. Out of nowhere, a fallen tree limb sailed in and blocked the blow, once, and again. The whirlwind continued to grow, stronger. On the old oak, the limbs the lanterns hung on danced in the maelstrom. Lightning flashed, flashed again, the bolts striking perilously close to the shore. A slashing rain began to fall, but Chrisana was oblivious, her hands pressed against her head and eyes closed, as blood pulsed steadily from both nostrils.
Inside herself, Chrisana gathered her remaining strength. She could hear the Aboleth's oily voice in her head. "You cannot triumph, whelp," it said. "I am ancient. I am superior. I am evil beyond the comprehension of a simple primate like yourself. You can NOT resist me. SUBMIT!!!"

And Chrisana found the strength to reply. "I AM resisting you! You are nothing but a monster who preys on the weak, on children. You are nothing but a thing, a leftover mistake from the dawn of time. And it's time for you to DIE!"
Reaching out with her mind, she could sense everything around her. The villagers, the tree, the lake itself, and even the transformed Helmer. She could sense it all. And it was simplicity itself to pluck the oil lamps from the tree limbs, and smash them into the slime covered hide of the Aboleth.
Fire exploded across the right side of the creature, burning oil cascading into one of the ooze spewing orifices, and its gill slits. Its tentacles on that side, began to crisp and blacken. Shattered glass sliced runnels into skin and muscle, allowing even more burning oil into the beast. The Aboleth screamed, giving voice for the first time in its existence, its tubular mouth extending in croaking agony. Convulsing, it relented its metal assault, trying to flop back into the lake. But it had dragged itself almost completely out of the water in it's rage, and with one tentacle burned away, it wasn't going anywhere quickly.

Chrisana wasn't finished with it. A power had been awakened in her, a gift from her parents, she now knew. A power she could use, to save herself, and avenge her parents. She reached out again, and threw a mental rope around the old oak. The years of rain and wind had weakened the base, and she yanked it over, the rim of the sinkhole crumbling, the hard, dried limbs coming down on the Aboleth's torso like a hundred swords. It trumpeted in agony once again, as the tree whooshed into flames as the burning oil hit it.

Pierced through in a dozen places, and with fire burning in it's belly, the Aboleth died screaming.

Chrisana dragged the sleeve of her party dress across her face, smearing crimson the length of her forearm. She turned to face the villagers. The people she'd known all her life. The ones she'd grown up with. Her uncle. The people who'd killed her mother and father on the orders of a monster. She looked at them, cowering at the edge of the firelight. One of them brandished a dagger in one shaking hand. She took a step forward. And another. "As for YOU..." she began.

Three weeks later, the first of the King's patrol rode into the village. The guard Captain stopped a young woman who was walking at the top of the hill, her arm full of flowers. "Your pardon, milady, but how long has this village been here?"

She laughed. "Why, all my life, Captain! You're the first patrol to ever stop in though. Welcome!"

The Captain took of his helm and scratched his head in amazement. "I've been riding this patrol for three years now, and I never knew this place existed before today. Amazing."

Chrisana smiled up at him. "Well, we do tend to keep to ourselves here. We have everything we need, after all." She gave the soldier a little wink. "Mostly."

He straightened in his saddle. "Well then, I'll have to make sure to remember this place, won't I?" He turned and signaled the patrol to move out.

Chrisana looked down into the village, her brow furrowing. As one, the villagers lifted their arms and waved. She then turned her gaze to the back of the departing patrol, and her gaze deepened. "No, Captain, I'm afraid you won't."

Her nose hardly bled at all.