1997 - 2006 G. Dallman
May 17, 1997 Version 2.0
Revision Date: 05/21/2006
Aarrl reached out taking Andrew's arm in his huge hand, raising his other to look at his chronometer.
"Alignment," he whispered.
The Dirhal controlling the Gravity Harp brought it to full power. The multi-terawatt energy flowing from its vacuum well caused Andrew to experience an intense itching sensation and a sharply vertiginous feeling, as though standing on a steeply declining slope with the Gravity Harp at its bottom.
As a coherent beam of gravitons stabbed down toward the Earth's core, the Heffnss shouted in the Liturgical tongue:
"The Harp clears the Mind.
The Mind seeks the Thread
Through FoldSpace to Taahas!"
With that utterance, Heffnss raised his mallet, striking the cylindrical form of the Gravity harp three sharp blows, each less than a second apart.
Howard stood almost unmoving, fidgeting occasionally in the sub-freezing wind and sporadic flurries of snow blown from nearby boughs, eyes fixed on unseen Taahas. After the third pure reverberation of the Harp, he raised his arms, palms outward to compel, by force of will, the opening of the Portal, which he hoped would be there. His heart was near-breaking with the desire of this fulfillment.
With all his Being, Howard shouted a singe word: "Taahas!"
All remained quiet except for the dying reverberations of the Gravity Harp and the dying echo of the Human's soul-felt shout. Arms still raised, Howard shouted again, fear and unbearable want straining his voice until it no longer sounded Human.
Seconds passed and still there was nothing. Sinking to his knees, Howard pounded on the frozen earth, raising clenched fists full of soil and snow above his head, his voice now hoarse and broken, his words rendered incoherent by his wracking sobs.
In that instant all hope fled.
Heartbroken by his sons failure, Andrew tried to pull away from Aarrl, but managed only to tear the sleeve of his jacket, the Ursine's claws rending bloody furrows in the flesh of his forearm.
"Let me go, damn it!" he howled.
"Leave him be," growled Aarrl. "There is nothing you can do. His sorrow is his alone. His Choice must now be Honored."
At that moment, Heffnss dropped the mallet he was holding and in two steps was standing over his Student. In a loud voice he shouted, "Hold! Alignment is Broken!" The sibilant Sennal words shattered the cold air like a rifle-shot.
Upon hearing Heffnss' shout, Howard became quiet, a small trail of drool threaded from the corner of his slack lips, fragmenting on the frozen breeze. As the Feline came to stand over him, the Human looked up and said in a anguished voice, "My Teacher, I have failed. I beg you, do now, as you promised."
Reaching over his shoulder with his left hand, the huge Feline drew his Scholar's Blade, holding it point uppermost, so that it caught the adamantine light of the standards. Upon its left face, in black glyphs, was the Sennal inscription, 'Honor in Death'.
Seeing what was about to transpire, Andrew redoubled his efforts to free himself from Aarrl's crushing grip, the Ursine's black claws dug deep, blood welling thickly between his heedless fingers as bone shattered. Aarrl shook the older Human violently, the force of his action, magnified by his own sorrow, dropped Andrew, gasping, to his knees.
"Be Still!" roared the Ursine, "Allow him the kindness to die now, while he is still sane!"
For a brief moment Heffnss dropped to one knee, cradling his Blade in the crook of his right arm. Leaning close to his Student, he whispered in a gentle voice only Howard could here. "May you now find peace in your UNITY with God. Farewell, my Student."
Standing once again to his full three meter height, Heffnss aligned his body with that of the Human. Raising his blade once more, he spun it about his wrist and with a might shout, brought it whistling down.
Andrew howled like a tortured beast, the pain of his shattered arm forgotten. Long, his anguished cry reverberated over the mountain-side, until suddenly his voice was silenced as Aarrl reached behind him with his free hand, snapping the Human's neck.
"I shall grieve for you too, Sire of Howard," he whispered, as he slowly lowered the lifeless husk of Andrew Ripley to the frozen ground. "You have seen what should not have been. Oh, that it could have been otherwise."
Aarrl stood as he released the limp body, grieving for the two Humans and also for the Eldest Child Of Tirrnn, who would, mercifully, also be dead, slain by a similar blade in the hands of Hosstt of Teff, Second Priest of the Monastery.
Slowly, Heffnss took two ritual steps back from his Kill, as prescribed by Tradition, carefully licking bright blood from his blade. Next, in a move that surprised him almost as much as the hot tears that coursed down the sides of his muzzle, he calmly fell forward onto his sword.
Again there were screams. Who could be screaming? They were all dead! …All dead.
Howard shot bolt-upright on his pallet, Aarrl's huge hand was on his shoulder, shaking him, and still he couldn't stop.
"I failed! I Died! Heffnss killed me! Aarrl killed Dad! Heffnss is dead! I failed…I failed." The human's words ran together, punctuated sporadically by his sharp gasps for breath.
Suddenly, Howard's panic numbed mind was refocused as Heffnss materialized amidst a powerful puff of displaced air.
"Teacher, you're alive!" shouted Howard, trying and failing to overcome the resistance of the Ursine's huge paw on his shoulder. His relief brought him to full wakefulness like a bucket of cold water.
"Idiot Student! What else would I be? However, if you persist in your nocturnal vocalizations, you shall soon cease to be. How is one to sleep with the likes of you yowling your inconsiderable brains out!"
The Feline turned to Aarrl who was still standing beside Howard. "What stimulated my Student to make such hideous sounds?"
"Under the circumstances it would seem he has been troubled by a dream," said Aarrl, his tone indicating the facts were obvious beyond the need for comment.
Heffnss ignored the taunt and turned to the Human. Bending down, he raised Howard's head with the side a claw under his chin. "Are your dreams often such as this, my Student?" Unaccustomed concern colored his voice.
"No, my Teacher, none like this," he replied with a panting shudder.
"I must see this dream," said the priest as he took Howard's head between his large hands and knelt to press his forehead to the Human's. Despite himself, Howard couldn't avoid trying to pull away, partly in fear of the huge Sasskal, but mostly because of his utter terror at the thought of being forced to revisit his nightmare.
"Novice! Be still. I shall not harm you. Open your mind to me. Now!" hissed Heffnss.
As commanded, Howard found the strength to fight down the panic that gripped him. Soon his mind began to drift in a warm haze that insulated him from everything, including his own thoughts.
For several minutes, the Feline sat on his haunches, in absolute silence, his forehead pressed to that of the Human, their exhalations mingling as they breathed in unison. At last, Heffnss pulled away, his tufted ears laid halfway back along his skull, his eyes staring intently ahead but seeing nothing. "A dream indeed," he whispered, slowly releasing his firm grip on Howard's head.
"My Student dreams of a possible future. Know you, there are an infinite number of futures, and this is but one. While the dream is dire, it has components which I had not thought possible." Once again, Heffnss brought his fearsome hands up to Howard's face, touching him lightly to either side of his eyes, almost a caress. His voice was reduced to the slightest whisper, yet held a desperate urgency. "My Student, listen to me. Why would I die for you?"
"I don't know, my Teacher," whispered the Human, "My own death, I understand, and I take great comfort that it would be so. I think I understand why my father would have to die, but I don't understand why you would…" Howard's voice trailed off for a moment, as though continuing was too painful. "Would my failure bring such shame upon you?"
"No my Student. In the resonance of your dream I felt the shadow of my own mind. It was not shame that motivated me so. It was another thing entirely. I had not thought it possible…It cannot be! How could I come to such a state?" whispered the Priest, mingled wonder and dread shading his voice.
As Heffnss rose and turned from his Student, so the cold dread could not be read on his face, he silently vowed with all his Soul that this one future would not come to be. His race would not be denied their Redemption!
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