The raw soul rose from endless, sanity-shattering torment. Stretched and drawn, it was pulled screaming from tar-like distillations of excess. It writhed like an abyss-dwelling eel caught on a hook that drew it ever upward into lighter waters.
The soul’s new surroundings were still murky, bathed in twilight, but they were blinding and glorious in comparison to the hellish darkness that had devoured it so long ago. The rescued animus was thin, attenuated to a surreal extent. But it had substance, finally, and a will of its own. Its relief at having escaped its tortuous fate was intensely profound, just as complete as the hunger of its nemesis.
The soul’s consciousness slowly focused as if waking from a nightmare, gaining increasing awareness of the true nature of things in its new reality. Dim shapes, linear and hard-edged, coalesced. Thank the gods, thought the soul; it was finally in a place.
The soul surged towards the tapering shapes, their chiselled outlines seeming like a safe haven to a man escaping a riptide. The tall, geometrically perfect structures were carved with runes. From each of them came a chain of penumbral magic that stretched off into the distant beyond. The soul did not dare to look back at that which they bound. It was not certain of much in its diaphanous new life, but it knew with iron solidity it would rather die a thousand times than look back.
On into the twilight stretched the soul, its thin screams dwindling as it drew near the tallest of the structures. It reached a kind of stasis there, one end of its essence caught in some kind of energy field whilst the rest was drawn inexorably toward it. Though it had no eyes, the soul could sense two figures looming over it. Their auras conveyed great majesty – and though it had no ears, the soul could hear the faint whisper of an exchange between the two figures hardening into words.
‘And so another is teased from within that cavernous gullet,’ said the first essence. She was a female with a velvet-smooth voice, marred by a hissing sibilance. ‘A strong one, at that.’
‘They are becoming more difficult to ensnare,’ said the other. Male, both young and old at the same time, his tones carried the weight of infinite disappointment. ‘I wonder if the twins are finding the same thing.’
‘Of course they are,’ snapped the female. ‘They might think their skills superior, but we too are gods – or you are, at the least.’ Her tone became bitter and filled with envy at the last admission. ‘The very fact this place has been held in balance for so long shows that when we act together, we are equals in every way.’
‘If you say so,’ said the male idly. ‘Do you think I am oblivious to your secret visits? Your armies grow stronger than ever, the Scáthborn more numerous every time I look.’
‘You know full well I am lining the nest for both of us,’ came the hissing reply.
‘Do not seek to blind the Lord of Shadows with your forked tongue, mortal.’
‘What choice do I have? The Thirteen Kingdoms are lousy with the spoor of the Seekers. The dead claw at the Reborn wherever their masters pick out the scent.’
The male voice laughed without mirth. ‘How like you, mother, to use the consequence of a treacherous act in order to justify it.’
‘All this time, and you still know nothing of true rulership!’ The sheer venom in the female voice made the lost soul, caught now in the thrall of half-formed memories, shiver to the core.
‘Can you not feel change in the air?’ the female voice went on.
The lack of reply was telling in itself.
‘This delicate balance we have achieved here, this prison,’ continued the female. ‘It will all be ripped apart like cobwebs in a storm if the portents come to pass. We must act now if we are to prevent that fell cataclysm, or at least ride it out intact. We have a duty to our race, to every soul we rescue. That, at least, is truly eternal.’
The male voice once again did not reply. After a while, the soul began to think itself abandoned, but then the giant spoke once more.
‘And what of your dear friend and liege apparent, the God-King? No doubt he expects you to fight on his behalf.’
‘He still places his faith in mortals,’ the female replied. ‘I have visited his council, and found nothing but a herd of short-lived imbeciles unfit to lick my boots. Now their mayfly armies march upon Nagashizzar as we speak. He is blind to our work here, as he is to so much of that which transpires in his domain.’
‘That much is true,’ came the reply, a trace of cruel humour behind his words. ‘He still thinks the Gladitorium a fine and noble tribute, not realising its true purpose. Besides, the sight of his gilded cretins slaughtering one another is a little gift to myself that will never tarnish.’
‘We must protect our interests above all,’ said the female. ‘No doubt you think the twins will intervene before it is too late.’
‘They will secure their interests in Hysh with wearying efficiency, and do little else. The Luminous One has no love for Sigmar. Not since that barbarian fool wasted Teclis’ kingly gift on his own short-sighted agenda.’
At the mention of the name Teclis, the soul found something snagging within its mind, like a thorn caught on fabric. That name was familiar, conjuring both love and hatred at the same time. It writhed once more, a thin moan escaping its ethereal lips.
‘Tec…lis…’ it said.
Two pairs of eyes suddenly fixed upon it, the intensity of their scrutiny like knives boring into the essence of its soul.
‘It spoke,’ said the female. ‘It spoke, did it not?’
Another long silence. The soul twisted in strange aetheric currents, still caught on the hook that had dragged it from the worst kind of oblivion into the light.
‘Conceivably, it may have heard us,’ said the male, stooping down until his burning eyes seemed to fill the soul’s awareness without end. ‘And that we cannot allow.’
‘Sever the snare,’ said the female. ‘Never let it be said that the Shadow Queen takes unnecessary risks.’
The rescued soul felt something snap in its mind, and then experienced a jolting feeling of being sucked down, swallowed and consumed.
It became a long, tortured scream, and then disappeared.https://malignportents.com/story/a-rescued-soul/