Tales of Kiliag, The Priestess’s Curse

Tales+of+Kiliag%2C+The+Priestess%E2%80%99s+Curse

By Brooke Ehmann – Jones

March 16, 2021

 

Aerwen

Ever since the day my father fell ill, the kingdom has been in despair. As I ride down the once-bustling and joyful cobbled streets of Kholeia, I mourn the state our kingdom is in. King Leo, my stepfather, is the most generous and kind man ever to walk this earth. Kholeia had been in a prosperous and peaceful era for many years with my father on the throne. But ever since the battle with the Ring of Beasts; when my father was struck down from his stead and cursed on the front lines of battle; the kingdom fell into a hopeless state, battling the demons and beasts surrounding the kingdom every day, and praying for the king to recover. And why wouldn’t they, their king was ill, sure to die in the next week or so, who would lead them now? But no. I shook away those troubling thoughts, sticking to the firm resolve I had made an hour ago after the conversation I had with my father.

“Aerwen,” he had rasped in his hollowed, sickly voice. I hated hearing him like that, his rich deep voice that had called my name so many times before, was now also being tainted by the curse and wounds the witches cast upon him.

“Yes, my king?” I rushed to his bedside. I had been reading a story to him before he had interrupted.

“You know I will always love you, even though you are not my true blood.” I blinked back the tears that were pooling behind my eyes, I had a sickly feeling that I knew what would come next. “When I pass-”

“No! No, no. You will not die, I will find you a cure if it costs me my life.” He smiled at my outburst. 

“Aerwen, you are smart, I don’t doubt that you could one day find a way to break this curse of mine. But you know it’s a lost cause, even you, the most powerful priestess in the land, could not lift the curse. It would be a fool’s errand to search for a cure, knowing that even the most powerful of magic will not help. So please, just listen to me. You will lead our people when I pass, you will be as kind and strong a leader as I.” At this point, I was crying. I know it was childish and weak to cry, especially at my age, but my father’s words made me feel like a helpless child again; cradled in his strong arms. He lifted his frail hand and stroked my face, sending trails of comforting warmth down my cheek. “There, there, my child. You must be a brave leader, braver than you have ever been before. For our kingdom is in a fragile state, they need a strong leader to lead them, and return them to a prosperous state.” I nodded again, thinking of all the ways father had improved Kholeia, and the times he had led them out of famine, drought, and the war with the Tetzikians. “You must be there for them, Aerwen, can you do that?”

“Yes,” my voice was choked, but I managed to compose myself. Looking into my father’s eyes I knew I couldn’t give up hope, I had to find a way to save him. No matter the cost. It would be too great a tragedy for my country to face. That’s when I knew, I would not give up. 

“Thank you, Aerwen, you will be an amazing queen.”

“I love you father.” I squeezed his hand one last time, holding his gaze, before slipping out of the depressing room.

***

 That night I had saddled Dyaus, my noble steed, and packed a satchel with some necessities before riding down the desolate streets of Kholeia. Even though I had promised my father that I would give up on a search for the cure, and take the throne once he passed, I could not let it go. So, I had planned to leave the kingdom at night, seeking a cure. I had a vague plan already formed in my mind. Ever since the battle, more demons and beasts started appearing and attacking the outer wall of Kholeia. We didn’t know where they were coming from, but many, including myself, had the suspicion that it was the Circle of Five that was the cause of these attacks. The battle where the king had fallen was against the Circle of Five, the notoriously evil witch coven, wreaking havoc across the earth. I suspected that the witches were growing these monsters, sending them to our walls to invade our kingdom. But so far, our loyal and valiant guard had fought off these monsters. Even so, they were growing weaker by the day, like the rest of our people. I knew we couldn’t keep this up for much longer. I planned to ride out of the kingdom’s borders, in search of the Circle of Five. I had heard legend as a girl about the evil witches and remembered that it was said that Gogli, one of the five witches, was more lenient than the others, and more merciful towards humans. So, I was hoping to find Gogli, and plead for a cure. As I thought on this now, it seemed rather foolish of me, it was sure to be a death mission. But I swallowed my fear, the success of this mission could save my father’s life, the king’s life, and bring peace to Kholeia once again. 

After hours of riding in the starry night, I was growing tired and felt the cold seeping through my cloak. I had hoped to find the witches by now. Since I was a priestess, I had the power of four, a magic beyond the simple mage, or wizard. So, I was tracking traces of magic through the dense foreboding forest, hoping to find a trace of magic that would leave me to their layer. Aha! I sensed the faint wisp of evil and dark magic leading north; this could surely be the work of a witch! I rode desperately on, ignoring the scratch of the branches against my arms, and the soreness of my back from riding for so long. It was getting harder to spur Dyaus on, he was more and more skittish, unwilling to ride further. 

“Come on boy, just a little further, I can sense them now,” I said soothingly as I rubbed his neck. I knew I would have to send him home soon; it would be too dangerous leading him into a layer of beasts, I wouldn’t risk his life too.

The dark magic reached a painful clenching in my gut, causing a feeling full of dread, almost too hard to bear. I grit my teeth and rode on; I could see the dim light of a fire through the closely packed trees and brush. This is when I decided to let Dyaus go, I didn’t want him to get hurt. A horse would do me no good anyway when facing off with the hordes of demons that I would surely cross paths with. I slide off my brave steed, patting him on the neck, letting him know it was ok to go. He hesitated a moment, looking deep into my eyes, before giving me a soft whinny and galloping off the way we came. Such a brave horse, please return home safely, I prayed to the cold night air.

I crept through the forest, and the sight I saw was horrendous. There were hordes of demons, and beasts around huge bonfires scattered in a ring around a cave in the forest. I managed to sneak past a loud crowd of monsters, using my magic to conceal my scent from them. Though I knew that even my great powers would be no match to the power of the Circle of Five. So, once I got to the cave entrance, I gave up on my magic entirely and walked as bravely as I could into the dark entrance.

*** 

“You are a brave soul, waltzing into the Circle of Fives’s layer.” The haunting voice hissed from all around me, as I made my way into the cave. I spoke as defiantly as I dared, challenging the owner of the voice to show themselves.

“I have come seeking mercy from the great witch Gogli. I will give you anything you desire if you lift the curse you cast upon King Leo, the day of the battle.”

The voice chuckled “I can see that, I know exactly why you are here, Aerwen, princess of Kholeia. What I’m wondering is why you would come on such a fool’s run?”

At this, I was on the point of breaking, I had traveled a hard journey to get here, to save my father, the one that loved me most. I could not fail. 

“I see, you are a strong one, would do anything to save her step further.”

“That’s right!” I yelled back, encouraged by the thought of my father’s warm smile. “I wish to speak with Gogli, I know she will hear me out” The voice seemed to pause in thought. Then suddenly a bright door appeared from the shadows, and out stepped a beautiful maiden. Her slender figure was draped in a gauzy white dress, and cloak, with a waterfall of white hair the color of moonlight flowing behind her.

“I see the true determination in you, Aerwen. I am Gogli, witch of the Circle of Five. I will give you mercy for intruding upon our layer, only because you possess the power of four, a rare and honored gift among humans. You seek the curse on your father to be lifted. You are also smart, knowing that only the one who casts it, will be able to lift it. But let me tell you now, I will only lift it if you give me something in return.”

“Yes, I suspected such a trade would have to be made, so I came prepared.” With this, I unclasped my cloak, letting it fall to the ground. Around my neck hung my priestess pendant. A jewel marking that of a priestess. It had appeared in my hand the night I was born, signifying that I have the power of four in my veins, and would become a priestess on my tenth birthday. It was one of the main sources of my power, I had never been without it. I could probably live without it for a time, but I had never tried taking it off, sensing a connection running deep into my soul from the jewel. Helping me access the Power of Four.

“Ahhh,” Gogli purred, eyeing the jewel hungrily, “the jewel of a priestess, the most powerful relic any creature could possess.”

“Yes, and I would be willing to give it to you if you vow to break my father’s curse right after. Doesn’t that seem like a fair trade?”

“Yes, it does, give it here, my dear.” 

“Do you vow to lift my father’s curse?” I said more firmly now.

“I think that can be arranged dear, but first, let me hold it. And make sure it is truly the jewel of a priestess.”

I grudgingly unclasped my necklace holding the glowing white jewel, it hovered in the air, arcing towards Gogli before resting in her outstretched hand. SCREECH! The jewel sizzled and crackled sending tendrils of energy out in all directions right as it contacted her hand.

“AHHHHH” Gogli screamed. Her hand was singed and charred black, the jewel clattered to the damp cave floor.

“You fool! You dare lie to me, giving me this fake! This is not the jewel of a priestess; it is a trick! A trick!” I stood shocked, staring at Gogli, then the jewel, then back to Gogli’s face, twisted with pain and hatred. I stepped back.

“I didn’t. I don’t know what happened,” I stuttered. Not at all sure why the jewel had reacted that way to the witch’s touch.

“No, you wanted to kill me!” She accused me. “But you were a fool, no one can kill a witch as powerful as me! She shrieked, as her body began to glow. Her charred hand crumbled away and was replaced by a glowing orb. “You will not get away with this puny girl. I will curse you, curse you with something worse than your father suffers from! A curse sure to never be broken! I started scrambling towards the entrance to the cave, but my path was blocked by a wall of jagged stone, I was sure that was not there when I entered. I was trapped. My power would be no match against Gogli’s wrath. What should I do? Why hadn’t I listened to my father?

The room was now so bright, it was searing my eyes, I clenched my fists, and with the last of my remaining power, sent a short message into the night sky. Hoping it would reach my father and the rest of the kingdom. I knew now that the last words I would utter to my people, my father, would be “I’m sorry, and I love you, goodbye.” The light from Gogli’s orbs of energy had engulfed the entire cave room now. I closed my eyes, taking my last breath as the full force of her power hit me, sending my mind into darkness. Awaiting the curse.

 

1,000 Years Later…

Glen

“Dad, do you know how much farther we’ve got to hike up this rock?” I was getting real tired of following my dad around on these archeological hikes like a lap dog. We had been out in the “Emerald Isles” as my dad liked to call it, for over a month now. Hiking and exploring the deepest and most remote parts of Ireland non-stop. And don’t get me wrong, I was as much of an archaeological geek as my dad, but green was starting to be my least favorite color of all time. When we first arrived in Ireland, all I saw was rolling green hills and cattle farms, and guess what, now I also only see green rolling hills and cattle farms. Though I did have some hope for this next hike of ours. My dad heard of this ancient cave, rumored to be the source of all magic in the world (not that magic is real, or that I believe it’s real). So, we had taken the next buggy out of that small town in the middle of nowhere, to an even more remote place. I had been excited about this trip, not because of the weird magical rumors, but because I was hoping to find some cool gems or rocks I could add to my collection. We had been hiking for what felt like hours though, still with no sign of the mysterious cave. 

“Dad, why couldn’t we have gotten a guide?” I complained, “We aren’t getting anywhere.” We had tried getting a guide, but my dad insisted we find this ourselves to “make it feel more like an accomplishment.” I think the real reason was that none of the people we had asked had wanted to even accompany us here, some even told us to drop it, and said we would be fools to go wandering in that country. That wasn’t the most reassuring thing to hear, the locals here must be pretty afraid of whatever’s in this forest.

Dad had been fiddling with this ancient compass he had gotten at an antique store in a previous town, trying to make it work. 

 “Well, that won’t do us any good son, it’s broken.” He said, slipping the compass back into his pocket. I sighed knowing this would be a loooong day. “Let’s just use the sun as a guide, that should tell us which way north is.” But as we looked up into the sky, I realized that I could barely see the sun anymore. The foliage was so thick, only a couple of measly rays of sunlight could penetrate it. The forest was also darker and chillier than it had been before, a growing sense of uneasiness formed in my stomach.

“Dad,” I said slowly and cautiously, afraid that the slightest movement might alert an evil creature lurking in the increasingly growing shadows. “Now we’re really lost, what are we going to do?” Panic creeping into my voice.

“Well son, all we’ve gotta do is hope we find that cave. That’ll at least give us some idea of where we are.”

“Uh-huh.” Now I was even more desperate than before to find this sight. If we kept walking, we would surely come across something hinting at where it might be.

We walked on, and about half an hour later we found a cave.

“Is this it dad?” I’ve got to admit, I was kind of disappointed. It was just a hole in the side of the ground in an overgrown clearing. 

“I think it is, let’s see if we can get in.” He replied. We made our way through the thicket of brambles, thorns, and other plants I seriously had no idea the name of. Finally, we got to the entrance of the cave. The hole was embedded in the side of a rather large hill. The entrance must have once been grand, but now it was so covered in vines and brambles, and a couple of small holes that you would have to shimmy through. 

“Glen, could you fit into that hole right there, and see if you can find a way from the inside to let me in.”

“Ok, sure.” I wasn’t too keen on the idea of going into a mysterious-ancient-haunted cave alone. Nevertheless, I slipped off my camping pack and dropped to the ground. The hole was tighter than I expected, and I had to squeeze through, but I got inside without too many scrapes and bruises. 

I saw that the cave was pretty spacious once my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Dripping stalactites hung in eerie patterns on the ceiling. Okaaay, pretty creepy. 

“You okay in there, son?” I heard my dad’s voice from the other side of the tangled wall.

“Yeah, just looking around,” I called back, searching for a weak spot in the wall, where I could bust through. “I can’t break any of these vines dad-” I was startled by a scuffling sound nearby. It took me all my willpower not to scream like a little kid. “I’m just going to look around a bit dad, then I’ll come back out. I’ll just be a sec.” 

“Okay, don’t be too long in there, and watch out for anything dangerous. it’s an ancient cave, there could be any number of dangers in there.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I called back. I wanted to know the source of that sound because I had an eerie feeling that I wasn’t alone in this place. 

The cave was full of a surprising amount of wildlife. You would think because sunlight couldn’t penetrate this place, that it would be empty and cold, but it was full of strange plants I had never seen before… and was that a warm breeze? I shivered. This all felt wrong. Something was off about this place. I was about to make my way back to the cave entrance when I heard that scuffling noise again. I crept deeper into the cave, following the noise, leading me to a low mound of a thorny plant by the rocky wall. 

“Aha!” It was just a mouse, running in and out of its nest. 

I started making my way back towards the cave entrance again when suddenly the ground beneath my feet collapsed, and I plunged deep into the ground. 

***

I tumbled down a rocky and bumpy tunnel, probably getting a million bruises (and screaming like an idiot the whole way down). I landed on a soft mound of earth. My cries for help were quickly silenced as I took in my new surroundings. I stared up in awe of what I saw. I must have fallen some sort of tunnel because I was now in a completely different cave from the one above. I felt as though I had fallen into another world. This cave was brimming with life and beauty. Towering trees reached up into what seemed like an endless sky, the soft mossy ground was dotted with flowers, ferns, and mushrooms out of a fairy tale. Mythical-looking plants covered the ground, and, were those animals? There were rabbits, foxes, more mice, and other small creatures scurrying about. I couldn’t see the ceiling, but it seemed to go on forever, and glowing orbs of light floated around, lighting up its surroundings. I staggered to my feet, finding myself walking towards a more open and spacious part of the cave. A small burbling stream wound its way through the majestic trees, flowing with crystal clear water. I was tempted to stoop down and take a drink but then shook my head, remembering “Survival one ‘o’ one,” never drink water from mysterious unknown places, no matter how good it looks. A doe, with a beautiful speckled coat, trotted into the clearing. I had the urge to call out to it, and it looked at me with its black satiny eyes, and seemed to say, “follow me.” Wow, this place was getting to my head. But I still followed it, wanting to explore more.

The doe led me deeper into the seemingly never-ending room. The life surrounding me seemed to get even more vibrant and vivid from where I was before. I must be nearing the source of all this mysterious life. I walked into another clearing, this one, brighter than the last. I soon realized this was because the glowing orbs I had seen earlier were all massed around something in the center of the clearing.

As I made my way closer, I could make out a shape these orbs were massing to, it was a crystal-like box. With marbled and faceted edges. I waved away some of the orbs, and was that… a hand? I scrambled back in terror. I had seen a hand. A living, fleshy hand. What the heck! This was all wrong. Well, I was too far into this mess to back out, and what if that thing in the box was still alive? I couldn’t just leave it in there. I scrounged up my courage and shooed away the orb thingies. I stumbled back in surprise; I could not believe my eyes. There was a girl, about my age it looked like, sort of floating in the crystal box. She had long flowing black hair, floating about a slender figure, framing her graceful, pale face. She was beautiful. But why was she in this box? That’s when a horrible thought occurred to me. Was this a coffin? Wouldn’t she be a skeleton if she was dead? Or maybe this crystal box had somehow preserved her. Ick, a preserved dead girl. This kept getting weirder and weirder.

My mind couldn’t take any more of this crazy. I staggered back, clutching my head. What was this place? Who was this girl? A slight movement caught my attention again though, dragging me out of my frenzied panic. The girl’s finger had twitched! No, it must have just been my mind, but no! It twitched again! Could she possibly be alive? If she was, maybe she would know where we were, and a way to get out of this place! 

Before I could plan on how to get out of there though, her eyes fluttered open, locking with mine. Though I didn’t know it then, those vivid emerald green eyes were about to turn my world upside down.