Therapy: A Session With Cormac

  • The long descent, deep down into the heart of the world it seemed would be endless. Ever sloping; ever downward, grating on his boots even with the heels dug in. Finally he reached the bottom; Cormac, bare-chested and with his bare hands held out before him. He passed by a great tower of stone that seemed to grow and twist up into the black ceiling of the caverns, he passed and descended deeper... deeper... deep into a purple haze, from within quiet barking - whimpering, whining... a whole litter of puppies maybe -- no, two litters -- three dozen puppies all rushing him from the reeky dank fog of the Underdark; yellow furred and grinning pup faces. All of them suddenly upon him. Cormac laughed and fell back, the warm fuzzy creatures swarming over him - nipping, licking, yapping merrily. His face contorted, full of joy and mirth and laughter like he hadn't laughed in so long. He played and wrestled with the little ones for so long that he didn't even notice the giant mother bumble up behind him. It's huge boofy head bowling him over; but he was so careful and agile so as to not harm the small ones. All of them barked at once, a mighty high-pitched yap - yap! Their big brown eyes and wagging tails amused the large man so, but this was a curious thing to him in this place. Yap - yap! The barking faltered and the dogs walked backwards into the mist -- or perhaps it rolled forward and consumed them.

    "Come back!" he tried to call out. "Come back!" he wanted them so. But the words wouldn't come, couldn't come; was he breathing? They didn't come back. And the mist receded, and he was standing again. The rolling mist poured back to reveal faces before him; a legion of faces all worked into horrific shapes. Their eyes seemed to follow him and that made him shiver - his blood ran cold, so cold that he might die he thought in the dark. He faltered; he stepped back and bumped into another - more faces? But this one was fair, beautiful, singing -- Sebrienne? No... Isolde -- no, it was Hana the blacksmith or... Asha? Thau'lira? No - it was all of them in a semi-circle at his back; he laughed to himself because they were all singing in one voice. But the words were gibberish, or non-words. The chorus "camroC pu ekaw" was too fast for him to catch, and lilted as high as the sound of starlight it seemed. Buzzing, insectile. All of the voices together buzzed like a choir of angels, "camroC pu ekaw" and at the same time ushered him forward. Forward, towards a black wolf that lay in the dark. Gigantic and with his paws crossed before him. The wolf spoke in the words of a man, it said to Cormac thus: "Truly no one is outstanding without me, nor fortunate; I embrace all those whose hearts ask for me. He who goes without me goes about in the company of death; and he who bears me will remain lucky for ever. But I stand lower than earth and higher than heaven." Cormac froze - felt himself freeze - felt eternity pass by around him, his gaze set fixed forever and a day upon the face of the wolf who'd posed this impossible riddle that he could never answer. A thousand winters came and went it seemed before he felt warmth again, this forgotten thing. Asha stood there wearing little, perhaps nothing - he could not tell for her hair had grown wild, or was it Lady Firehair - Sune herself that caressed him so and thawed the blood in his veins. She kissed Cormac's ear, and he delighted in it, and the word seemed to slither into his ear canal in the trail from her wet kiss and belch out of his mouth, in her voice; "Humility" returned Cormac and the beast was gone.

    The floating bodies of the choir swam around him in the dark, ever singing, their voices rising higher to a hum as they ascended. Cormac was left alone on the stony floor looking up at them, watching them drift and float away. He wished he could bring them back or ask them to wait. His heart was aching as darkness and cold surrounded him again; and again he faltered - again he was pushed back. Again a body pressed against him. A firm, flat chest; hairless but broad and strong, warm against his naked back. A man's voice tumbled out and it was not his own - he recognized it, Reemul, the horseman. The fighter's hands worked Cormac's shoulders, fingers sinking into his muscles as he spoke his comforting words - words that were thick and heavy with seduction. Cormac's jaw clenched and he was ashamed, aroused even, the man said "Leap"; and Cormac did as he was bade, and he plunged skyward into a pool of glowing green; and he kicked his legs and pumped, and almost drowned in the glowing pool as his singing companions all fell away from him. He felt alone in the pool. He swam upwards. Thau'liira's face in the dark water as singing and he passed her, she smiled and touched his body with her naked hand as he moved, gliding past her towards the surface; the sensation caused his heart to swell and suddenly he broke the surface; leapt from the surface, and stood upon the rippling reflective glassy pool. The singing of his companions was all around him again and their chorus was bring; "!camroC pu ekaw", "!camroC pu ekaw", and he bathed in the glory of it. His skin felt dry and warm, he stood naked before them all and laughed with their song.

    He watched his friends like the stars and celestial bodies above him, wheeling and whirling, singing and guiding him. He sat in his canoe and pulled himself onward upon the rippling body of the lake. For miles and miles he paddled, he grew not weary nor did he seek rest all along his journey. He knew in his heart and mind, in his very soul that he was going to join those singing beauties above him. He sailed on.

    The boat ran aground suddenly, and an endless typhoon raged. Rain whipped and lashed him from the side and up above, high on the mountain in the dark, he saw great trees growing. They swayed angrily in the ceaseless wind. But he needed shelter and his friends, all of them, grabbed him by the hands and sang into his face, their eyes wild and full of terror it seemed - and they dragged him farther and closer to those tall threatening trees. They creaked and cracked against the wind, and their small apple-sized fruits fell and crashed to the ground, crumbled half of his singing angles to dust as they pounded from the high boughs to the low earth. The broken hands that gripped him were brushed away by those that were still fresh, and he was wrestled through the rain and falling fruits out into a wide open space; black and barren save for the most tiniest pin-prick of light.

    He turned back, back to the shadow - back to face those tall deadly trees in the dark; but he stood face to face with red lipped Isolde. She stood in a gown of silver silk so thin that all her womanly figure was outlined against the bleak murky shadows of the Underdark. He felt her hands caress his forearms, every individual hair brought to attention by her graceful touch, and her eyes like gemstones burning against his own gaze. He felt soft in her hands, and she spoke to him in a lovers' voice, ".og s'eL !mih nmaD .su raeh neve t'nac eh timmaD !DRATSAB DIPUTS UOY .dratsab diputs, htlif sih ni ereht mih evael - taorht sih tuc tsuj ,mih lliK". He looked into her eyes dreamily as she sang the nonsense words to him. And when she pressed hers silk-clad breasts against him and kissed his cheek, he felt electrified by the sudden thrust of force behind it. He let out a dreamy moan, and he was surprised when a similarly dressed George Longcloak came to him from the other side and laid a similarly electrifying kiss on his other cheek; he felt his face flush and redden as the purple beard brushed against his manful jawline. Cormac's chest heaved in a great sigh. The three danced together, closely as though they'd just been bound in marriage. Cormac's head swam but he laughed giddily, and felt a warmth between his legs.

    It was while he was dancing and writhing with those two that Erilo descended from on high, twirling slowly and softly as a feather - his face drawing ever nearer to his from above like a spider on a string. He felt the Half-Orc's big wet lips press against his forehead, right between the eyes; his eyes fixed shut and he cried out in euphoria as the tusked teeth behind the green skinned lips nipped at the tip of his nose. His eyes met Erilo's, and through a kissing mouth the purple-hooded-mostly-nude Orcblood whispered "!ereh attuo m'I - ti htiw lleh ,flesmih dessip eh kniht I !kciS", and Cormac smiled, his eyes opened with heavy seducers' lids. But all were gone. And he again was lonely; though closer to the white light that shone through the opening in the dark.

    He looked at it closely, and revealed to him were the soft lilly-white legs of Sebrienne, which he had never in his life seen but could well imagine apparently, her naked navel and body with her hands behind her head and her fingers thrust deep into her golden hair. Between her thighs the whitest beam of light; blinding to behold -- but Cormac stared, and within the light, there staring back at him, Cormac staring within the light and staring back at him, and Cormac was staring back at him, and back at him stared Cormac... until it maddened him and his head reeled and he spun about -- and saw Elves. All dressed in white and enshrouded with the white light that seemed to beam from all of his companions; all of whom were there too, all holding hands and slowly walking in a circle around him humming their song. The tallest Elf stood before him, beard long and white as snow. It stared into Cormac's eyes as it parted its beard whiskers and gave birth to yet another small Elf, which bore the face of Rey', and clung to Cormac's leg and called him 'mother' in its strange tongue he thought. He squirmed with joy and relief and joined in the circle dance with his wonderful singing friends; and they danced for the rest of eternity it seemed. The endless refrain of "camroC pu ekaw" sung in crystalline voices by his friends, and by the Elves.

    The warrior became dizzy and fell forward, his guts fell out onto the floor and he vomited vigorously until a crimson lake of blood pooled out in front of him. Wild-eyed he looked around for something, some reason for this - but all had grown dark again; his stomach turned, and he threw up again. He felt lumps in his throat and he couldn't breathe, sweat rolled off him in beads as he gagged and heaved. A hand spilled forth out of his mouth, and then another; and he felt the fingernails tear and claw all the way from his spilled miles-long guts, crawling all the way up and out of his throat; and it burned and it stank. And in the black at the edge of his pool of blood, a lapping sound. Lapping all around, giggling and lapping. Porcelain faces on the edge of shadow staring back at him - all around him, lapping the blood and laughing at him. They skittered closer on too many legs - spiders - spiders with weird faces! He fell back, ass in the wet, and he tried to scurry away but he slipped. And they came upon him and laughed, still, and they stabbed him with their legs. And their laughter grew louder, and their faces all changed -- and those that were upon him were his friends; he wanted to scream! The terror burned him, fried his brains he thought.

    And there he sat the back room of some dossers' shack in the back edge of town. His fist wrapped round his sack of mushrooms, sitting in his filth unmoving - his unblinking gray eyes staring with tears streaming down his cheeks; was he laughing to hard? Is he hurt? It's hard to ask, it's hard to say. From one minute to the other he wears a grin; a savage look, defiant and raw. The other forlorn and melancholy. Sometimes lesser men come and beat the unmoving hulk. Some speak of murdering him and taking his treasure. A couple of blows to the side of his head as he dreams of soft kisses. A bloodied nose from another. He's not even there, it seems, not really. The man weeps and laughs absent sanity as his brain tries to make sense of the horrors of the Underdark. Try to make sense of the man he is, or was, or has become...


    Heat blasts down from a black sky, a swirling cyclone buzzes with lightning over head; the heart of the storm is a black sun too immensely bright/dark to look at without going blind or insane. Tilled fields roll on forever in every direction, and Cormac Randolph sits in dreary silence. He cannot move. He cannot speak. For he is himself at this time a mere scarecrow, propped up upon a stick crucifix - the poles of which are driven up the back of his loose shirt and long-ways through his loose and ragged sleeves. A lady's sun hat, broad brimmed and made of straw with a bright pink flower embroidered in it covers his stuffy-guy head complete with sewn in X's for eyes. A thin smile is sewn into the sack material that makes up his face as he observes the dusty oblivion - horror that stretches out before, and all about him.

    A trio of brightly dressed figures mill around in the dusty dry dirt. He is aware of their singing, a touch of bright loveliness in this barren nightmare. The closest one is singing nonsense words as she plants her crop. A bright yellow skirt with a blue blouse and corset she wears, a black bow in her red hair. She sings prettily her nonsense song and makes herself busy with her work. The stuffy-guy watches as black winged creatures circle above, a deadly brown viper slithering stealthily her way, fel beasts drawn to this anti-Snow White's song. The stuffy guy's heart is full of fear for the life of this lovely girl, yet with his stuffy head and sewn lips he can utter no warning, he simply rustles in the desolate breeze.

    Second has platinum hair tied up with a plain black band, blazing silver-gold even in the bleakness between the blackened sun and the scorched earth. She hums along with the other's song, and is dressed in a simple blue dress with a white shift. White stockings disappear up under the wide skirt and her dainty feet are adorned by plain black shows. She is nevertheless lovely to behold, young and vibrant. She beats at the earth with a rusty iron tool and her stunted crop is little more than a patch of broken earth, the kind of red dirt that hasn't been kissed by rain; cracked and void of life. This 'Alice' beats the earth and kicks up dust. The stuffy guy's mind is full of thoughts of hope, of curiosity and wonder.

    The third figure has wild red hair and she sings to the sky, and dances upon the earth; she is dressed in an elegant blush-pink ball-gown, all done up with fabulous lace and embroidered with pearls and gold. A golden tiara adorns her head and on her feet her delicate shoes are matching pink. This princess Aurora; the Sleeping Beauty dances boldly beneath the tempestuous sky that forever threatens to storm and bring its deluge. She has planted nothing and tends no crop, and yet her field seems so close to coming to life. The scarecrow on his pole's soul feels calmer knowing such a one has faith in the dismal field. In his stick and scrub stuffed head he can almost imagine the things that might bloom here. Sunflowers; Moonflowers. Silver daisies or fiery orchids. He is at peace and all is well in the world as the three tend their respective plots.

    The fluttering of wings by his head startles him from his placid daydreams of silver and gold flowers. Sharp, needle-like talons puncture his ratty shirt and sink deep into the stuffing in his shoulder. The exquisite pain is very real and yet he's unable to cry out, or wince, or shudder in response; he is just a stuffy-guy held up by two poles that have been crudely lashed together after all. And while he can't turn his head to look at it, he knows that there on his shoulder sits the beast that haunts him; the valravn. He feels the warmth of its breath as it pecks at the loose string that makes one of his sewn X's that are his eyes, and he feels as the string is first unfettered and then drawn out in its great length. To his horror, as the sack peels away from that place he realizes that he can see clearer - plainly with his own iron grey eye. He tries to blink the blood away, a few droplets finding their way into his open eye from where the string had been stitched in, the salty thick liquid stinging his exposed eyeball. The winged beast speaks in a man's voice by his ear.

    "Look at how they each care for thee in their own way Cormac. This one tends thine own heart. That one eases thy mind. And this one; the dancing one, she cares for thy very soul. But for how long? Look there with thine own eyes. Look on, I bid thee, for this is the future that is sewn by thee..."

    And as he speaks the woman that sings in her yellow skirts turns about, soaked up to her elbows in blood and caked in dirt. The deadly snake that had been approaching her is lifted in her hands, panic washes over the stuffed scarecrow as she kisses the top of the serpent's head; he hadn't seen how perfect her face had looked or how tempting her bright red painted lips had been when her back was turned. He felt weakness, and he loathed himself for the lust that warmed his hay-filled belly. This Snow White figure dropped the snake into the dirt before approaching the stuffy guy, and yet she addressed the valravn on his shoulder - and her laugh was like a crystal song, and her voice was a touch long yearned for. "It won't be long now little friend, the things that ail him are coming into the light; soon, my dear. Soon you shall feast upon the crop. For here grows the heart of a hero in this ugly earth. Ah! But it is yet too small for you. Soon, my dear". And as she spoke the serpent slithered to the budding crop in the ground, a beating heart that spurts blood in steady pumps into the dusty soil, the snake - as Cormac observed - coiled itself around the beating fruit and tightened about it; black tongue flicking. Black fangs threatening. The man knew terror and the foreboding feeling grew in his chest. A coldness that was not altogether out of place in this dire territory. His spirits were not uplifted when the red haired pantomime Isolde with her black bow whirled gayly away, singing her bright song as she went back to tending her crop. His anguished heart.

    "And look yonder at the young girl" commanded the valravn in its man's voice. "Look there and see the fruits of that one's labor. She dwells within thy mind, yes? Cultivates your thoughts, brings forth such thoughts in thee as 'consideration', and thoughts of 'warmth' in thee. Look ye at how thee burdens thy companions; more than merely faithful is she; she is as a salve upon thy weary consciousness. I know she soothes thy thoughts of rage, of cruelty and torment. But look now at how close she is to breaking -- soon, Cormac, soon thou shalt dwell in darkness. Soon loneliness shall be thy only companion".

    His iron grey eye, grey as the wheeling storm above flitted out in the direction of Sebrienne - Alice - as the lovely girl stood beating the dry earth with her iron tool. He noticed now that her humming was pained grunting with each swing, and that her small hands were bleeding from endless toil. She sounded tired and looked to be on the verge of giving up. Puffs of dust boil up from the arid ground and the land yields nothing, yet the girl tries so hard. Sweat soaks her blue dress and her white shift is blotted with dirty stains and bloody hand prints, the dust must surely sting her big blue eyes for they are ringed red and wet with tears that threaten to spill over. The stuffy guy knows well that she is strong, and yet his mind is filled with anguished thoughts of how she will surely leave him to seek greener, less terrible lands; lands far from his troubles. His guilty thoughts of what might grow there; what could grow and blossom, and how bountiful it all could be are repelled and forced down and away whenever they spring up like weeds, plucked away by melancholy and hurtful notions of abandonment, of false or misgiven affection.

    Then spoke the raven-wolf into Cormac's ear. "And what of the dancing girl? She prays for thy soul. She dances for it and pleads with the gods for thy salvation. She has the kenning, aye, t'is true; yet for all its worth she knows not what ails thee Cormac Randolph. Perhaps she has cast her spells and looked out to thy future; delved thy past; or sought understanding from thy present. But what crop comes from dancing alone? None - does thou not see? Thou cannot be saved son of Magnus. Son of Morrigan. Son of Legend. Son of Story and Song. Thou cannot be saved by any of them. Not thy heart, thy mind, nor thy spirit. Thou art doomed".

    Asha, the red-haired Aurora danced in the dirt; the hems of her pink gown and underskirts all splashed with mud as she whirled and stepped. The tambourine she slapped ringing out with the sound of her own beat. Tears streaming down her dust caked cheeks in black little lines and turning the field beneath her rose-coloured shoes to red mud. He could hear her begging the gloomy sky to relent, to drop its rains down upon her and her 'sisters', to end the drought and to let Cormac's spirit grow strong again. Lightning lit the swirling vortex and disappeared into the black sun at its center. The only answer that came to the dancing gypsy princess was bleak and empty void; silence broken only by ceaseless wind that seemed to come from every direction - and yet sucked the air out and away from ones lungs and made it hard to breathe. There was no hope there in this blasted land, no seeds had been sown after all, just the coaxing dance of the red haired princess in her golden tiara that hinted to the nature of such a thing; Hope. She danced close to the stuffed man and she tugged on the brim of his lady's hat, and as she pulled his stuffed head closer and down to her face she kissed his stitched lips deep, and with uncommon passion.

    The vertical stick that held him in place snapped at the neck and is head tumbled off. The woman laughed and danced with the stuffed head in her hands, the sudden crack caused the valravn to fly off startled. Blood ran down the front of the gypsy girl's embroidered gown and dashed the lace and pearls with misty spatter. His iron grey eye stared up at the reeling storm clouds, at the laughing smiling, insanely weeping face of Asha until all went black; and he awoke alone, and cold.

    He clung to the dream in his first waking moments for as long as he could, sought meaning in the weird visions - but all drifted as he left his quarters to relieve his nagging bladder. All that remained would be a sick sense of guilt, bitter remorse, and an emptiness in his heart.


    A horn rings out from afar, Cormac is so far into the center of the battlefield that he can no longer tell over the din whether it comes from behind or from the front. Sweat rolls off his soot and mud splashed body; his axe and him both standing ready; bare-chested and helmed. Combat ensues, a host of spearmen in black armor bearing down upon him and his battle-line. He can't just stand there and wait to take the brunt and so he throws himself into the mess of spearheads. He knocks the stiff wooden shafts aside and brings his wrath down upon a spearman - but his foe is well trained and with a whirl of his spear has parried Cormac's greataxe. The two step out of their formations and begin to fight in single combat...

    The fight is long and hard, the sounds of chaos ring out on all sides as the enemies circle one-another. Death is in the eyes of his enemy; death is too, in Cormac's eyes. The foe thrusts first and Cormac dodges; a mere back-step, a test? It matters not, for his axe wheels and cuts down upon the shaft of ashwood and splinters the stave. It's uncommon for a warrior to show his back in combat, but Cormac does - a flourish as he spins around and brings the heavy blade of his greataxe across and through the poor soldier's neck. Before his blow lands his common battlecry "Randolph!" sounds over the battle-sounds. His enemy's head tumbles. And he is most certainly dead.

    Cormac stands a moment above his defeated foe, savoring his hard won victory. Exhausted from the exertion of combat; he doesn't see the next spear coming towards him, not in time to do anything about it - he thinks 'this is it', his end is the blink of an eye away; but Isolde rolls forward with her shield in hand and blocks the deadly tip. She winks up at the barbarian and smiles beautifully; "You're an AMAZING warrior!" she chirps sincerely, and rolls forward once more into the fray - Cormac watches as her thin blade pricks the breastplates of almost a dozen enemy soldiers in quick succession; her shield clattering and battering the spear formation in her path. He thought a moment on how uncommonly good at fighting the woman had become; he dwelt on days gone by perhaps too long while he watched her move like a wicked dervish-dancer.

    He raised his axe once more and went to jog back into the fight alongside his companion; but he was startled and forced back as elemental bursts disrupted the enemies in front of him. Whirling storm-clouds, roaring thunder that sounded so close that it was steal his very breath away. Aoth and Sebrienne not far to his rear conjuring the raining death and clearing vast swathes with little more than a mere gesture; a word, at times. A streak of lightning trailed in a zig-zag line too bright to stare at, cinders and scorched land in its wake. And then an echoing boom from somewhere deep within the enemy ranks; Seb' must've split the sky, thought Cormac, and he was right. An eerie cloud of static dust rising from a barren dry patch of dirt, and for many ranks beyond and around all the soldiers had fallen to their knees and were holding their heads or discarding their helmets; ears and noses bleeding. Okay... he thought, and twirled his axe - looking for another spot to make himself handy.

    There it was; his opening, a bristle of speartips falling into formation. He grinned to himself and leapt dreamlike from his spot to this spot where battle should've been thick. When he landed there were George and Mako, both twirling their bladed polearms - he fell back in awe as Mako unleashed a burst of lightning-breath and sent a dozen men at once to their graves. Before he could even speak a word she had spun into the remaining formation; back to back with George, their halberds sending limbs and jets of blood streaming into the air around them. Fine; this area is covered, thought Cormac, and he turned away to another spot. Before he could take a step the thunder of hooves from behind; and rushing past. "You're doing great! Keep it up!" the voice of Reemul cried, full of mirth as he rode past - a silvery scimitar in each hand. Like a row of match-stick heads he cleft two lines, and rode down his center-line with his heavy warhorse. Nothing could stop him; he was like an arrow cutting through the air of a windless day. Cormac stood awed; humbled.

    His axe faltered in his hand, the shaft slipping down till the heavy blade was near his fist - he felt useless, and as he turned to walk off the battlefield a spear was thrust through his side. He looked down and saw the bloodsoaked iron tip, and he cried out. He fell to his knees as the weapon was tugged violently from him leaving behind a ragged and fatal would. He gasped, his eyes wide - hands holding in his guts as his axe lay at his side. "This is how it happens? The spear of some nobody...?" he felt himself growing cold, shaking as his bloodlife was drained into the dirt. As his eyes grew hazy he saw a pair of blue boots in the dirt before him; and though he hadn't the strength to raise his head he could hear Asha's voice and he knew the spell she was speaking. The wound healed and he was whole again and with his axe in hand he stood to face the red-haired woman. She grinned at him, she was so pretty - he thought - and she bade him "Keep fighting Cormac, you're 'so' strong!", the encouraging words baffled him - he'd been so close to death.

    He spun around with his axe, furious and ready! Eager to shed the blood of those who had wounded him so. And his axe clattered against the shaft of a spear - and with a movement he'd brought the point down into the dirt. A movement drove the iron shod shaft of his gigantic axe up and into the jaw of his enemy; and as the man reeled back he finished the soldier off with a rapid recovering strike. His magic ring tugged his axe aside and he was prepared immediately to deal another fatal blow to the the next man; and he did, into the hollow of his foe's shoulder. There was much blood, and gore, and Cormac was in his element.

    Another spear was thrust at him before he could move or step, two men he'd just slain and the third was ready for him. Cormac's jaw clenched, he hissed a feral breath through his teeth and the spear-tip stopped little more than an inch from his naked chest. Raazi wove her hands mysteriously nearby and Cormac knew that the enemy was held by some hex spoken from her weird mouth. That one was dispatched quickly and Raazi said "You're the best, Cormac. You're a true warrior!"

    He looked back at Asha, and she was grinning and pointed forward. When he looked ahead at what she was pointing at there was Jonni, smiling at him, blood streaming down his chin and down and down, and down onto his armor and his boots, and the dirt above which is boots dangled - for he had been impaled by many spears and lifted up off the ground. He too raised his hand in a bloody-grim thumbs up, and he choked out the bloody words "We'll look after you Cormac, none of us would ever see 'you' hurt!", the light faded from Jonni's eyes and Cormac turned to the side and vomited.

    Freddy gave him a thumbs up from across the way, his plumed helmet handsomely dancing in the wind and a litter of many corpses around him. A branded mercenary was drawing the enemy's center and they could not make him yield. Thau'lira and the barbarian Elf-woman picking enemies off from either side of him; all looked back to Cormac with supportive grins and thumbs up. Cormac stood confused and all became still before him. Even the enemies were calling encouraging words at him and clapping, and cheering. "Well done!", some would cry. "You're doing so good, Cormac!" cheered others. The applause rose higher and louder and Cormac stepped backwards. He felt a coldness on his back and some coo'ing nonsense words filled his ears. He was surprised and frightened when he was lifted from the ground, and when he looked at his feet they were naked with tiny toes; and they were on the ends of chubby legs with chubby little knotted knees. And 'what the hell am I wearing', he thought as he saw the pin that held his puffy white diaper on. No axe in his little clean, pink baby-hands. He cried; an infant's cry. And it was Nuwairah the warrior woman who had lifted him, and she brought him to suckle at her steel breast. And he did.

    He drank her molten iron milk and she sang and she coo'd at him. Everyone on the battlefield; even the many-pierced corpse of Jonni all gathered around to adore the baby Cormac, and they told him how great he would surely be when he had grown up and gotten so big, and so strong. And oh - how handsome the babe was. Coochie-coo!!

    And Cormac's eyes opened suddenly and wide. He dwelt on what he'd dreamed; he couldn't think on what it could all mean but his heart raced, and he wiped the sweat from his brow.


    He awakens

    Cormac's bleary eyes scan the dimly lit room, everything is white-painted, clinical, and he can't move his head. He struggles but can't get up, his arms are bound - and his legs. "What the devil is going on?!" he growls at no-one. His voice bounces off the walls, there's nothing.

    "Stop struggling", a woman's voice - familiar. "Don't you know I'm trying to help you?" she continues, sounding genuine and servantly. Cormac tries to relax, his struggles cease and he looks up to endless black where he imagines the ceiling ought to be. He hears a click - or a fingersnap from the same direction that the voice is speaking to him from. A bright light blinks on over his head, a bright white halo beaming down directly into his face. He can feel the heat from it, but he can't blink or close his eyes. He growls and begins to struggle again.

    "Stop struggling!" The woman's voice again through soft calming laughter, though firmer this time. From either side he ears a separate set of footfalls, the clicking of heels on stone floor. A man's voice, and a woman's voice speaking together. They're both familiar too - people he knows well. They speak as one "He's ready. You can begin the procedure", and each grabs an arm. Cormac's half-blinded eyes roll from one side to the other, above him he can see the white uniform robes of healers, though tight and open necked, cut low he thinks. Buttons open and, he thinks to himself that he glimpsed underwear. He tries to peek further but his attention is stolen away by the sound of metal on metal, like chains, or tools down by his feet.

    "Excellent! Now 'sweetie', lets take care of what ails you" The first voice says, the familiar woman. She called him 'sweetie', she's never called him 'sweetie' - she said as much - was it days ago? Years? His thought dwelled on this. He felt a hand caress his ankle and move up his shin, it rested on his knee and he felt fingernails drumming there. "A little higher", the two voices said at once. And he felt the fingernails trail upon his muscular thigh. "Ah, yes. Right here I think 'sweetie'. I promise it's for your own good - only - you simply 'must' stop running away from 'what ails you'." She sounded sincere, she sounded like she truly cared. But Cormac was panicked and rightly so. He didn't see the tool but he could feel the sharp edge bite his flesh, sink into the tissue, and glide around his thigh bone. He could 'feel' his bone. It was horrific, and he screamed. He felt his body fight against the restraints but he could not break free, even as the sound of one tool being put down was replaced with the sound of sawing. Rapid sawing. It was over in moments. The sensation was both hot and wicked, and he knew at once that his leg was lost. He swallowed back the sick feeling and his heart sank like a stone. What kind of warrior could he ever be now? That's where his mind went. The two assistants gently stroked his hair, and wiped his tears away. "There there, Cormac, it's all over now you see? Well done amputator." The both comforted Cormac and praised the surgeon in their singular man/woman voice.

    In his dizziness he could hear a slow cranking, and he became aware that the table he was lashed to was moving and when he was finally upright the image he saw before him made him sick. There was Isolde's beautiful body, dressed in a white healer's robes, though the front was open in a low V, cinched with a red belt, and the lower skirts barely covered below her waist. Thin white gossamer stockings were worn high above her knees, and she wore, he noticed, dainty shoes of silver/white with long thin stiletto heels. It would've drove any man insane, were it not for her face, her whole head, what looked back at him was the head of the Devil, Amshiel. From the shoulders down she was ever the knockout; but the unsettling gaze of this fel creature that spoke with her voice should've been enough to break his mind. What pushed him over the edge though was the 'limb' he cradled in her arms like a newborn babe. Not his severed leg, but a symbol. A tattered, bloodied banner bearing the screaming raven emblem of his clan. Blood dripping from where the wooden shaft that bore the once-proud flag had been sawn in twain. "There, now it's gone. And yet I see 'sweetie' that something still ails you", spoke the she-devil. "Something still ails him amputator", said the twin voices that still stood at either side of him. "Nothing ails me!" Barked Cormac. "Release me, let me 'die'!" he couldn't hold back the broken sob that warbled his words.

    They all laughed. Cackled. The ruined banner was cast aside and she approached him; this not-Isolde figure, this devil that both was and was not her. The silvery serrated sawblade glinting bloody as the bright halo of light shone upon it. She didn't hesitate, no more words of comfort. The devil grinned at him, and Cormac screamed in agony in its face; no surgical cutting of the flesh this time - just sawing, once - twice - a third stroke and he felt his arm no more. The flesh was torn away after the bone had been cut, the ragged flap of me at squirting blood on the stark whites of the female healer by his side. She did not protest. The devil-woman walked away from him, holding something - his arm, obviously - but no. When she turned around she held his Warblade; the longsword he'd claimed from the mazelike tomb of the vain-glorious warrior. "There, now! I've cut away your vanity, your dreams of fame - I've taken your desire 'sweetie', can't you see? You're free now!" She waved the bloody sword at him, pointed it at him, the devil's face grinning and laughing all the while - yet the voice was honest.

    This too was cast aside and it clattered to the floor, the room was mad with sound for a hellish moment. The devil's head shook and he heard Isolde tut sweetly at him. The twin voices on each side tutted along in unison. "What ails you?" said all three, quizzically. "Yet more?" Each said, the twins speaking out of line with each other for the first time, as each one asked in a circle. The blood-spattered 'nurse', this 'amputator' cast her saw aside and it rattled and skittered across the stone floor. Her stiletto heels clicked and clacked with furious speed as she moved towards her tools. "Ah, this one - for he sees much - he has knowledge of us. He has 'seen' us". The voice of Isolde melting away to the voice of some aged crone, her plump and gorgeous exposed thighs fading to the gray and wrinkled, vein-laced thighs of some old witch. She turned, a strange corkscrew tool in her hands; she turned the handle and the devil's head grinned at him as she came closer. The ancient haggard witch's flat breasts sagged and swung within the open V of her shirt and she was soon upon him, her wrinkled stockinged knee bracing against his chest as she plunged the mad tool forward - driving it into his eye, and with a few furious cranks he heard the 'pop' in his head and all went white - then red - and then black in one eye. He screamed madly and shook furiously against his restraints, this was somehow worse than having his limbs cut away.

    He watched with his remaining good eye as the hag slithered from him, she laughed her cronish laugh merrily, no softness in her words anymore. The devil's head faced him still even with he body facing away this time. The sexy nurses at his sides' hands were cold on his skin. He realized they, too, had taken their hag-forms. They congratulated their surgeon once more, though no longer in their weird unified speech but separately, and each with different praising words. "Very good, sister!" "Well done, love!", the leader hag unscrewed Cormac's ruined eye from the tool, in a weird sensation he 'saw' through it, for some reason, the room turned and turned, turned thrice and ceased. He could see his broken and bleeding body from their perspective, and at the same time could see the hag holding his eyeball. It wasn't really an eyeball, not a human eye anyway. It looked to him like a painted stone with an eye symbol painted on it. He knew this spell, protection magic; 'The Evil Eye' it was called and it was worn by the superstitious to ward off evil enchantments and beguilements. "There, 'sweetie'" the crone hissed through the ragged teeth of the devil's head. "...I've taken your magic. What remains now that you have no past? No future? What do you have now that I have in my hands your present? Nothing? Tell us Cormac -- tell us what else ails you".

    The three sisters spoke the same question. "What ails you Cormac?", over and over. They seemed to taunt him. He had little fight left in him, and he felt sick in his stomach as the dizzying scene unfolded when his eyeball was cast aside and the whole world wheeled around him. One eye focused forward, and the other rolling with clear sight. It rolled to the edge of darkness and settled staring upwards and to an angle. There in the corner he saw the real beast. It sat doglike, the body of a black wolf with thick fur, hindquarters with great large paws and a curled black tail; the front half, head and shoulders covered in the black wings of an enormous red-eyed raven. It looked down and he felt it was unimpressed in spite of its featureless black beaked face. This anti-gryphon (lion hindquarters and eagle fore to wolf and raven) was him. Maybe? His spirit - his terror. He watched from the unattached eyeball as it looked up and away, and back towards the torn body of Cormac on the butchers' block.

    With his one good eye, Cormac too watched as the hag had put down her insane corkscrew tool and pulled up an ornate silver knife. The three sisters continued to babble madly among themselves. One promising that she knew what 'ailed him', the other agreeing with the other, but protesting to the surgeon - begging her to take his other limbs. "Just to be sure, fair sister - just to be certain, my beauty". The bloodsoaked surgeon came forth and hushed them both. The face of Amshiel dead with flies buzzing around his dead bulging corpse-eyes, rotting and bearing down on Cormac. The mad click-clack of stiletto heels and the sound of them slipping in the lake of blood that had spilled onto the tiled floor echoed in the dark room; only the halo of burning light above him. He winced as he heard the hiss of the blade slide into his bare chest. He sighed out a weak breathy gasp as he felt the bones of his breast cracking open, as his ribs were pulled apart his loose eyeball watched the Valravn's beak drool its dark, hungry saliva in the dark. It licked its black-lipped beak as it watched the hag pull his beating heart from his chest; a feast, a feast for the beast that feasts on the hearts of kings, the hearts of lords, the hearts of babes; a feast was such a heart! "Such a heart!" spoke the three hags together; "my goodness, such a heart!" the surgeon said again, excited - giddy - full of girlish glee and wonder. In her blood covered talon hands, raven's talons Cormac thought insanely. He could hear his heart beating from the greataxe she held in her claws, held it like it was both as light as a feather.

    He passed out, or he died. His heart he feared in his dreamstate was being fed to the Valravn. His broken body left in its ruined state being drained of blood and removed from any kind of warriors' use. His mind, body and soul broken and scattered to the four winds; or entombed forever in this mad and haunted place. The beast in the corner, in the dark, ever watching and waiting for scraps of him. The devil and the girl. What could it all mean?

    It did not matter... he slept. He dreamt. He sweated through the night and would rise again at dawn; having perhaps no memory of the mad things that haunt him. Simply aware of the inescapable thing that burdens his heart.