Nightwind: Fury, Chapter One — Vertigo (English)

Saffa, her spinning body tense and compact, opened her eyes.

The void mocked her. Warmth. Light. Air. Gone. Pain like countless hornet stings and numerous serpent bites surged through her.

She attempted to scream in anger at whoever, or whatever put her here. No sound emerged. What. The. Fuck?

Whirling so fast shredded her vestibular system. Dizziness? Sickness? Mere child’s play.

Stomach clenching, her throat burned, a hidden nightmare of spewing nausea. That sucked… And I’m in… nothing. Who the Hells am I? Why can’t I remember anything? I hate being smooshed! Engaging every muscle to extend her limbs, a hard, leather texture pressed against her legs and torso. Some sort of armor.

A force pushed back. Unyielding. Uncaring.

Anger ignited into rage and fierce determination. Let go of me!

Silent darkness replied. Callous. Cruel.

Tears threatened, but she refused them, her unseen countenance reforming with tenacity. Every fiber in her unleashed.

It rebuffed, smashing flesh and bone near her breaking point.

Delirious from spinning, she passed the threshold of pain, consciousness torn away.

***

Coming to, Saffa still spun in the void, pervasive stings and bruising pain consuming her body.

No… it’s not a dream. Fighting dread, she pushed with all muscles.

It held.

Her insides lurched, promising more upheavals. Can’t move. Can’t even scream. No more spinning! Giving it everything, fiery sensations swept her shoulder blades and spine. Arms and legs began to extend. Yes! Despite feeling the burn, she poured it on while screaming in her mind. More extension. Almost there!

It retaliated, forcing her into fetal position, and a harsh stabbing pain raked her femur.

Eyes watering from pain, panic clawed her mind. Frantically trying to push again, misery took her into darkness.

***

Saffa, a deep voice rumbled in her mind. Wake up.

Slowly awakening with full body aches and searing leg pain, she opened her eyes to the black, knowing her name again. I’m still here. Spinning in nothing. At least I know my name now. Yea.

You’re not alone.

And I’ve lost it. Great.

You’re not crazy… yet.

Who are you? she thought, hoping dialog with herself would distract from the horror.

A prisoner like you. We must free ourselves.

Thanks for the offer other part of my brain, but I almost had it last time. I’ll get out on my own.

Saffa, I’m not you. I’m someone else. You need my help.

What’s your name?

Mortemir.

The name sounded familiar. Still twirling, dizziness and nausea wracked her senses. Cramping, she silently wretched in repetition, and her consciousness waned.

The voice boomed in her head, Saffa! Stay awake!

Adrenaline spiking, she thought, It’s not me! I think my leg’s shattered.

Do nothing until the pain subsides and your leg heals. Remain alert.

How long will it take?

Several hours.

I can’t remember anything, but that feels fast to heal a bone break.

Call it a property of the void.

Do you remember things? Where are we?

So many questions. Once we’re free, I’ll answer them.

Are you spinning too?

Yes. Let me know when your leg feels better.

How did you get in my head?

With no response, she resigned to the fact she’d be spinning in this wretched void for hours, sick and awake.

***

Saffa’s leg tingled while she spun, dizzy in the void. The pain is gone.

When we push, we must do it fast with all our might, before it can fully react. If we hesitate, you might break more bones and we’ll have to wait hours again.

What about your bones?

On three Saffa.

On or after three?

Immediately after three, the voice hissed in her mind. Understand?

Got it. I’ll count us off. Ready?

Yes.

One. Two. Three! Pushing with desperation, her arms and legs extended partway. It’s working!

It pushed back, holding her limbs steady.

More Saffa!

Hot sensations came back, crawling around her spine and shoulder blades.

More!

I am dammit! she thought, straining with eyes and teeth clenched. Cold sweat oozed from her pours, limbs moving again.

Everything Saffa!

I. Will. Be. Free!

With a final adrenaline surge, her taught limbs straightened, spin reducing slightly.

Fuck yes! she thought, punching while twirling. We did it! Are you still there?

Waves of force battered her body. Something tickled inside her brain, growing into tormenting shocks, and her involuntary scream produced no sound. Too much to bear, merciful darkness came again.

***

Saffa awoke, bruised and still spinning in the silent void. The brain shocks intensified.

I can’t breathe!

Warm air gusted against her skin.

She gasped.

Rumbling echoed in the darkness, with smashing and creaking noises.

Stone blocks?

Closer now, loud booms and crashes resounded.

Fighting the blackness and her electrified mind, every muscle clenched.

Torches and candelabras ignited, revealing a stone great hall with grand wooden doors. She spun in its center.

Squinting from the brightness, she spiraled down, long hair whipping about. Stomach rebelling, she spewed a spiral of sludge. After crashing down flat, her bare arms burned while scraping the floor. Her spin slowly stopped, but wooziness lingered.

The last zaps of her brain faded. “Worst. Vacation. Ever,” she groaned, wiping her mouth. “My head…” After pushing up to all fours, she teetered, and stood. Unrelenting sickness dropped her, pilfering her breath. Her stomach ejected a cocktail of fluids and chunks. “Blah…”

A glinting longsword caught her eye.

She crawled through the mess, and grabbed it, sheathing it on her back. Having been through hours of hellish agony, she refused to be brought down again, and rose, arms out for balance.

More electrical shocks struck her brain. “Not these again…”

With hisses and crackles, fire and ice whirled before her, forming a two-headed, rainbow-furred puppy. One head blazed red, breathing out steam. The other gleamed blue, exhaling frost.

Bonding with the creature immediately in her heart, her mind settled. Massaging her temples, she took a heavy breath. “Are you the voice?”

Tail wagging, their fiery head panted and the icy one tilted. Astonished, she understood when the fiery head barked, “Not voice. Just Skadni.”

“Skadni, did you hear a voice earlier?”

Their heads shook sideways. The fiery head nipped the icy one, eliciting a gentle growl.

Head throbbing, she asked, “What do you remember?”

“Just know name,” their icy head said. “And you!”

“Me?”

The fiery head yapped, eyes bright. “You make Skadni!”

“Just now?”

“Yes,” said the fire head.

“I didn’t mean to make you. I’m Saffa by the way.”

“Saffa,” said the icy head, sniffing her leg. “Friend.”

“Well, aren’t you the most adorable thing ever!”

The fiery head perked up. “This way!” After dashing to a set of doors, they pawed them.

Stumbling forward, she braced herself and opened one door.

The pup barked with excitement at a dim hallway ahead, adorned with torches and tapestries.

Rubbing her pounding head, she groaned, “I don’t feel good.”

The dog halted, their fiery head tilting with concerned eyes. “Not good is… bad, right?” Both heads exchanged looks, and their tail wagged. “But you’re moving. That’s good!” the icy head said.

“True,” she said, grimacing. “At least we’re exploring, wherever we are. Maybe we’ll find the voice.” She knelt, patting the heads. Their fire and ice provided muted sensation on her hands, and they returned her smile, eyes half-closed in delight. Standing, she wobbled and reached back, gripping her sword’s hilt. Its touch grounded her. “I spent hours in darkness, spinning and sick.”

“Sorry,” said the icy head. “Sound like not fun.” The dog found a toppled golden chalice and sniffed voraciously. “Smell something,” said their fire head.

“What is it?” she asked, hobbling to lean on the wall nearby.

“Scent,” said the icy head, licking the chalice. “Yuck! Stinky blood!”

“Whose?”

“Two,” said their fire head. “One human. One something else.”

“Blood and monsters. Sounds like a party. Any other smells?”

“Good you smell,” said the ice head. “All around.”

“Keep sniffing. Maybe you’ll find more scents.”

The dog barked and led her to twin doors, splitting a symbol of a golden phoenix with blue moons by its long beak.

Pushing the doors open, she touched the symbol. Below it, she read a caption: “Unity. Glory. Nightwind.” The symbol and text stirred nostalgia. “Nightwind. My home, I think.”

“This place,” said the fire head. “Your castle,” said the icy head.

“Or some version of it.” She entered a regal room, illuminated by ceiling braziers. Portraits of stern figures lined the walls, their red eyes tracking her. An exquisite spiral staircase with wooden railings and marble steps led up. Despite this room’s opulence, no windows existed, a detail she found strange, recalling no windows anywhere in this place. Mindful of the silence, she asked, “Where is everyone?” As she thought about it, the sounds earlier sounded like construction. This place formed around her. From the nothing. Somehow.

“Maybe they all left?” the fiery head asked.

“Nobody’s here except us. And the voice.”

“Glad be with friend,” said the icy head. “Follow.” Paws clapped on marble while the dog hobbled up the stairs, excited barks ringing out.

At the stairs base, she looked up. Acid bubbled in her stomach, insides lurching. “No, no, no…” Unable to hold back her rebelling stomach, bile exited, staining the lavish green carpet below. After wiping her mouth, she said, “Better be the last of it.”

Holding the railing, she hoisted herself up, step by step, boots thumping on marble.

With her ascent finished, the dog darted down a short, wooded hallway illuminated by more braziers above.

Staggering towards a singular door at the hallway’s end, she kept her focus on her footsteps to maintain balance.

Skadni hopped around, heads barking in turn.

Reaching the door, she pushed it open.

Skadni darted in, jumping upon a fine bed, adorned in yellow silken sheets, with a soft blue blanket and pillows. Darting to a corner desk, their noses twitched. “New smell!”

“Need sleep.” Creeping forward, she tossed her sword down with a clatter, and rolled onto the bed, senses twirling.

The dog leapt up, resting on her legs while she slept.

***

Awakened to ice in her ear and fire up her nose, Saffa tried to swat it away.

Skadni’s tongues delivered unyielding icy-hot licks.

“Alright, alright,” she said, pushing their heads aside and sitting up in bed. “How long did I sleep?”

“Don’t know,” they said. “We dozed off too. Now we lick you awake!”

“What a typical dog.” Scanning the room with a sense of familiarity, she said, “You found my room.”

The fiery head barked, and their icy counterpart nodded. “You strong scent here.”

“Thanks for leading me here. You’ve been a big help.”

They shook, releasing a cloud of sparks and frost on her bed. “Welcome.”

Her gaze settled on a corner desk, made of polished mahogany. A plush, blue-cushioned chair lay in front. Rolling off her bed, she ambled over.

The dog followed. Three items topped the desk: a charred leathery tome, a hairbrush with brown hair strands in it, and green scrunchy. “Scent,” said their fire head. “Your scent. And another. Human.”

Noting the hairbrush and scrunchy, she figured those belonged with her. Perhaps a family member or friend touched them — these items must’ve followed her to this place and organized themselves during the construction. Sitting, she took the hairbrush, and began untangling the mess of her hair.

Skadni jumped in her lap. “Burn smell,” said the fire head. “Yours.”

“My burn smell?” she asked, wondering if she lit the book on fire and couldn’t remember.

“Yes,” said their fire head. “What in book?” asked the icy head.

Eager to find out, she finished getting those knots out of her hair, and secured it with the scrunchy in a tight ponytail. That’s better. Satisfied, she settled into the chair. Touching the cover, she read the title aloud, “Words of Power, Vol. I.” I wonder what words give me power? Thumbing through a few torched pages, she found one half-burned. What remained showcased a circle containing eight symbols just inside its edge. With a slow trace of her index finger, clockwise from the top, she whispered each name: “Flame, wind, heart, star, rain, stone, skull, eye.” Each symbol connected to a central, smaller silver circle with thin lines. She recited their names again, seeking memories, but the meanings stifled her.

Skadni hopped off, and nudged her chair.

Frustration gnawed at her. “Are these spells? Elements? Not quite.” They hinted at broader notions. Without memories, their full nature remained elusive. The flame and rain symbols captured her attention. Visualizing them, an unexpected chill, like drinking crushed ice, coursed through her, followed by hot flashes. One hand burned while the other chilled. Flames and snow encircled them momentarily. She shook her hands thrice, attempting to summon these elements again, without success. Glancing at Skadni, she understood fire and ice permeated her ki, or lifeforce.

The pup growled, edging towards her bedroom door, eyes filled with apprehension.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, closing the book.

“New icky scent,” the heads said.

“The voice!” Protective of her dog, she stood, and retrieved her dropped sword, gripping it tight.

The dog bolted away, their distressed barks and howls echoing.

Chasing behind she followed the pup to the royal sitting room below and on to the great hall.

Scratching at the open door, they whimpered, “I—It’s near!”

Taking a vigilant stance in front, she entered the hall. Everything appeared safe, yet instincts kept her alert. At the other closed doors, she nudged one open with her boot, sword held forward. She stepped into a dim, open space. A gatehouse loomed ahead, flanked by two towers, topped with crenelations. To her right, a stone wall curved around into shadow. To her left lay a cobblestone courtyard. Sporadic torches provided light. Gazing up at the blackness, she frowned. “Same black abyss like before. Definitely not my real home.”

The dog yelped and sped away into the hall, their whimpers and clapping paws ever distant.

***

Assuming Skadni ran off to safety in her bedroom, Saffa advanced to the gatehouse.

It contained a gate of dense wood and iron, lacking any obvious latch or lever. Quiet rumbling came from behind, a frequency like the voice in her mind earlier.

Maybe opening it will reveal the voice?

Adjacent walls with rugged stones invited climbing.

Hopeful to find a way to open the gate, she secured her sword and ascended to the battlements. Blackness everywhere. No stars. I’m still in the nothing.

The quaint castle grounds contained the central great hall. Beyond it, a hallway connected to the royal sitting room and its upper passageway to her bedroom just right of the hall. The castle, hugged by a stone wall, boasted eight towers.

She leaned over the outside, peering down into darkness. Jumping crossed her mind – would she fall forever? Snatching a nearby torch, she dropped it. Plummeting for just over ten seconds, its bright flame shrank to a dot before vanishing. It’s endless. Locating a nearby lever with two gears, she pulled it. Both turned, before halting with a clank. After climbing down, she noted a tiny gap in the elevated gate, with no visible obstructions.

A chill wind blew, tousling her hair.

Walking backwards, she drew her sword with a metallic ring.

The gate exploded in lightning, shadow, and flame. Debris grazed her, causing minor cuts. A deep buzz sounded, followed by a thundercrack.

She winced, ears fizzing.

The castle trembled, walls and towers shedding stones, ground quaking beneath.

Maintaining her footing, she squeezed her sword’s hilt with anticipation

A dark humanoid materialized, wreathed in flickering red sparks and shadows. Crimson eyes narrowing, his familiar voice permeated the air, serene yet unsettling, “Hello Saffa. Thanks for freeing me.”

“You’re the voice. Quite an entrance.”

“Yes. Apologies for the blast.”

Unconcerned with the damage, she asked, “What are you exactly?”

“A storm wraith.”

Saffa stood bold, ready for dialog and answers, but wary of him — despite their cooperation earlier, his appearance and essence conveyed consumption and destruction. “You don’t have memory loss, do you?”

“Indeed.”

“Great. Tell me what happened.”

 “A puppeteer brought us to this timeless abyss.”

Brows furrowed, she asked, “Who?”

“A pitiful pretender. An ill-fated encounter,” he said, words woven with shadows. “In trust once more, we may find our way back.”

“What is this place?”

“An infinite prison Saffa. Any more questions?”

“I trusted you before, but you feel like death.”

“You’re so insightful. But in survival’s harsh ballet, even death might be an ally. Again.”

“Why should I trust you this time?”

“Our destinies are entwined,” he said, his nebulous form flickering. “We’re each other’s only hope in this forsaken place.”

“Now I know what you are, I need evidence of goodwill.”

“An olive branch then. This castle in the void, is but an echo of your home.”

“Like home, but smaller.”

“Yes,” he hissed softly.

“You can earn my trust by telling me about my real home.”

“Work with me, and I’ll take you there.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“A trial,” he said, shadows shifting. “A second display of our combined might. Together we can rip through the fabric of this realm.”

She considered working with him, to find answers, maybe escape. But Skadni mentioned his stinky smell and ran off in fear — she trusted her dog more than him. “You’re foul Mortemir. Working with you smells counterproductive.”

“Saffa,” he said while undulating, “you underestimate cooperation’s power. A storm becomes most destructive when all its elements converge. Alone, we’re but wisps of wind and rain. Together, we are the tempest.”

Instincts told her everything. This being destroyed everything he touched. They could escape together, if he didn’t try to kill her first, but she’d find another way. “I understand the truth of your words,” she said, sword pointing at him, “but I won’t dance with your wanton storm of death and destruction.”

“Wanton death and destruction? You’re one to talk.”

“What do you know about me?” she asked, his words piercing with hints of truth. “Explain!”

“It’s simple. We escape and you go home, where all will be revealed. Will you cooperate?”

“Shadows can’t cloak your nature,” she said, imagining him backstabbing her. “Betrayal and treachery are your game. I will not cooperate.”

“Betrayal? Treachery? Such germane words. Our dance ends. Beg for death.” He drifted near, attentive eyes scanning while shadows writhed like snakes.

Charging with a cry, she slashed him. Her blade phased through, striking the stone floor, creating sparks. She stumbled back, bewildered.

“That tickles,” he said with rumbling laughter.

“Every monster has a weakness,” she said, sheathing her sword. “I’ll find yours.”

“I have none, leech.” Shadowy tendrils lunged from his hands, wrapping around her, cold and intangible, but holding firm.

She strained hard with her toned muscles in futility, and the chords tightened, sapping her strength. “And you call me a leech!” The bonds constricted tighter while she fought.

Your fear tastes delicious, he thought, his presence noxious in her mind.

Intuition told her to stop struggling and use kindness to cast him out. She stilled, and love for Skadni filled her. Hi Mortemir. Welcome to my mind again. Taste some love.

Dark tendrils uncoiled from her and retracted into his hands. “You bore me. And love is weak. Just like you.” A crimson thunderbolt formed in his hand. “This will sooth your dark soul.”

“Dark soul? That’s you wraith.” But his lightning worried her, and she dashed towards the great hall.

His depraved laughter rumbled behind.

Grabbing a torch just inside the door, she threw it at him. It disintegrated in his shadows.

“Pathetic,” he said, throwing his bolt at her.

She dove. Lightning struck the floor with a thunderclap, leaving a long black mark while exploding stone shards upon her skin and armor.

Pushing past pain and ringing ears, she stood, slamming the hall door shut and locking it. Fearful for Skadni she sprinted to the other doors, shut them and secured the lock, before adopting a defensive stance and catching her breath. “Steel and torch fire are useless. What’s his weakness?” Hands burning and chilling, circled flame and rain symbols appeared in her mind. “My fire and ice! But how do I summon it?” Gesturing with her hands yielded nothing.

The other doors exploded, spraying wooden shrapnel everywhere. He floated through the ruined entrance, and an inky curtain appeared over it. A gloomy blade formed in his hand. “You’ve nowhere to run. Hold still while I carve you up.”

“Where are your manners?” she sneered, her eyes fixed to his shadowy form and the red lightning crackling inside.

“Why bother with courtesies when death looms?”

“Death is near,” she said with arrogance. “Your death, Mortemir.”

Twirling his blade, he glided forward with nonchalance. “I am death.”

Circled flame and rain symbols remained in her mind, conveying a solution — he just might be vulnerable to her fire and ice. And she could conjure her magic. With a thought. One half of the catalyst. What about the other? Anger: it consumed her on arrival. Love: she felt it for Skadni. Wrath: she desired to inflict it upon him. Emotion! Her magical jigsaw puzzle snapped together. Thought and emotion sparked her magic. She growled, channeling anger at him.

He flew at her like a murderous gust, impaling her leg with his blade, pushing her down to the stone floor. Every draining pulse of his blade shocked her, the stabbing agony nigh unbearable. “Just a little longer, and your misery will end.”

She clenched her teeth, fighting his blade with every particle of defiance in her. “You won’t consume me.”

“I will,” he said, twisting his blade, causing wretched tearing sensations in her leg. “And I’m consuming your pet next.”

Threatening her dog kick-started every primal instinct within her. Fire emerged from her shoulder blades, spreading down her spine, smoking her armor. Hands glowing blue, she cupped them, imagining the hottest fireball. A small ember formed, ballooning into a blazing azure sphere. “Not Skadni!”

Yanking his blade from her leg, he slashed at her arms.

“Consume this!” she said, shoving the fireball into his chest.

He staggered back in a huge explosion, his blade dissolving inches from her arms. Battling her flames, he formed two crimson lightning bolts, one in each hand, and threw both with stentorian thunder. Slammed against the wall by the impacts and jolted with electricity, she convulsed. Smells of blood and singed flesh found her nose. Everything sounded garbled to her ringing ears now.

She fought the blackness at her vision’s edge.

As he floated to the hall’s center, a howling tornado formed around him, blowing out all torches and candles. In the darkened room, his flickering lightning cast chaotic shadows through whirling debris as it crashed around. “Prepare for banishment, freak.” Winds battered her.

Leg pain fueled her rage. “This freak,” she said, standing and hacking up blood, “will put you on ice.” Cobalt mist radiated from her skin, and the room’s surfaces iced over. Gripping her leg wound, she numbed it with icy fingers. Envisioning the cruelest blizzard, she leapt into the tornado, swirling above him.

Gazing up, he raised his hands. All lightning jumped to them, forming a bright orb of crackling crimson. Strobing the room, torrents of thunderbolts shot up from it.

Thrusting her arms down with fingers splayed, she hollered, “Eat snow!” Twin cones of winter burst forth, battling his assault in a furious clash. Some bolts forked off, tearing masonry apart. Ice and stone whipped around, cutting her. Pain, and his encroaching storm, motivated her to unload everything. Intensifying into a roaring blizzard, her magic merged with his cyclone, filling the hall. With a furious cry, she repulsed his attack and her barrage penetrated into him. A frozen prison formed, silencing his tortured groan.

Winds calmed. Her snowstorm receded, and she dropped, landing in a firm crouch. Frozen debris fell with cracks around the room. Silence came, save an unpleasant, high-pitch hiss in her ears. The still, iced room contrasted with the fierce battle.

She circled to admire her handiwork: an onion shaped cage, glistening white, pulsing with swirling blue stripes. A whimsical, curled icicle glimmered, crowning the structure. Two red eyes glared at her from within.

Figuring a stab through his frozen head would end him, she angled away from his gaze and drew her sword. Fire spread up the blade. “Let’s do this quick and painful!” After vaulting high onto the frosty cage she kicked the icicle off, and drove her blade down to the hilt with a shout. With a loud snap, flames of azure and gold snaked out. Radiant shafts of the same colors soared.

The cage detonated, ejecting three layers. White ice smashed about. Blue fire erupted, combining with the ice to create a sauna of periwinkle fog. Red lightning sprang around in a final act. Concurrently, a violent shockwave catapulted her up, slamming her high against the wall as each layer pummeled her. After flipping mid-air, she crashed on the stone floor, her sword clattering down nearby. Shadowy mist vanished, leaving behind Mortemir’s final words: “I’m free!”

“Free? What the Hells?” Squinting in confusion, she blacked out.

*****

Writing, characters, names, ideas © 2023-present by Jeff Johnson @jjxtra https://jeffjohnson.ninja

All rights reserved.

*****

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