The scene in the church was our first true taste of the storm. People hunched over, speaking only apprehensively, in hushed whispers. Many did not even believe we were truly there, voices from a far off land, beguiling them with false claims. They shut their eyes and ears, trying to drown us out as a whispering madness. There were a few who recognized, or believed us to be real. It's hard to say, but information was in short supply. Valeros has been keeping the entire church under his protection, which is incredibly dangerous. I wanted to help him, and I went to do so, but Ator warned me I may do more harm then good. I realized then that if I truly wanted to help him, we need to stop the storm. Even if I did manage to join with him, I can't very well stay in the church and act as a battery for the coming weeks.
We set out into the snow. The storm proved mostly safe with Ator's protection. The only true resistance we met within the storm itself were some shadowy guards that Ezekiel foolishly hailed. They moved their mouths, but no words came out. Feelings of hatred, and anger were very prevalent. While the forms and weapons were made of shadow, the blades could certainly be felt, but in a different kind of way. When the shadowy steel melt flesh, instead of a sharp pain, there was a debilitating cold, followed by a stab of mental pain. The storm seems to have an affect on people's sanity, and the weapons wielded by the shadows seem to have a similar affect.
After our fight with the shadows, we made it to the keep easy enough, but our arrival was one of strange circumstance. We started to get our first understandings of how the storm/shadow realm interacts with our own. It seems that there is a loose connection between the two. We were able to talk to the shadows somewhat. They seem to be able to hear us, but we have great trouble hearing them. Making out what they are saying was difficult, but possible. We managed to talk our way into the fort…but not truly. While the shadows did begin to open the gate for us, we heard gate opening noises, but the physical gate before us did not budge. This meant we unfortunately had to climb our way in over the gate. The shadows did not seem to pay any mind to us scaling the gate, so I Imagine in their eyes, we merely passed through.
The whole fort was abuzz with activity from the shadows, it was hard to say whether the shadows paid any mind to us. For the most part, they went about their business and shot us an occasional glance, but I think it's more because we were newcomers to the fort as opposed to not being shadows. Activity in the fort was the busiest in the main hall. We surmised from past experience that contact with the shadows was a bad idea, so perhaps Eze'kiel's previous reckless greeting was not entirely unwarranted. Actually, now that I think about it, it was entirely unwarranted, but we did learn something from it I suppose. That aside we figured that walking through the main hall could be potentially dangerous, not all of the shadows seemed to even notice us, and contact with them had been proven a poor option.
We set about getting around the only way we could, leaping through the rafter like fools. With the exception of Harald, who has continually proven himself a nimble ally. I do wonder how he managed to keep in shape all those years, his cell must have been large if he was able to practice maneuvers like that. Perhaps he always possessed that speed and agility, and just never lost his edge, but I'm getting off-topic. Harald deftly dodged the shadows, while the rest of us leaped from beam to beam up in the rafters. Growing up in the mountains kind of forced me to get over my fear of heights, but the fear of falling to my death is a little bit more concerning when you are jumping between narrow beams of wood 15 feet off the ground. Even though 15 feet doesn't sound that high, you'd be surprised of the difference to the ground when you are up there leaping like a fool. I suppose I'm really the only one who was concerned, Eze'kiel has always been a spry fellow, and Appolline made it look like it was no different than climbing stairs.
We dropped down on the other side of the main hall, and made our way to the servant halls. Eze'kiel figured there'd be little traffic there. He was correct, the halls were a bit cramped, but not suffocating. They existed for a purpose, and that purpose was utilized. We ran into one or two servants, one of whom we attempted interaction with. I'm still a bit confused how we appear to them, this one didn't even see us, he simply looked around confused when we spoke. It seem that there are multiple layers of how deep one can be in the shadows. To make things even worse, it seems that there is some sort of strange relation between the shadows, and time, as well as planes of existence.
This was more or less confirmed when we found the massacre. This is where I'm uncertain of the timeline, and events in the fort. We found just one shadowy body, murdered in what looked like an even combat. He was aware he was being attacked, and his weapon was drawn. The kill looked like a clean stab to the abdomen, which is not an uncommon fatality on the battlefield if the bleeding is not stopped. As we progressed deeper in the fort, closer to Atrianna's false throne, we saw more shadowy bodies strewn about in a violent massacre. Finally, moving through the carnage, we came upon Atrianna. Well, multiple Atrianna's. This is what finally solidified my theory on the relation to shadows and time.
There seemed to be multiple versions of her, with slight differences in appearance and attitude. All affected by different events in different phases of her life over the past few months. The one that we were able to physically interact with was the one sitting upon the throne. I had never seen the affects of the storm before now, I had only heard the stories Eze'kiel told of his Father, but seeing it first hand was truly disturbing. It had warped her into an icon of anger and sin. She was unable to think clearly, as she was blinded by a thick veil of madness. We tried to reason with her, but she was disillusioned. Perhaps not, we still don't fully understand the shadows, perhaps, to her, everything around her is real, and we are disillusioned. We won't know for sure until we can all leave the storm.
Eze'kiel tried reason with her, but she was having none of it. I'm used to having somewhat of an sociopath for a sibling, but never, would I fear for my life in Porter's presence. Certainly, my general well-being, but I trust him to know when he's gone too far…sort of. That aside, the same could not be said for Atrianna. She was making outlandish claims, that could only be arrived to by someone mentally sick, angry, and desperate. We pointed out the massacre that laid before her, and she seemed not to know of it. It's hard to say what timeline the massacre occurred on, and if she even knew of it. The only death she seemed to truly acknowledge, was the one committed by her hand. Sitting in the corner of the room was the body of Rorim Elendil, it was left in a rather gruesome state, that could only be the work of Atrianna. She did not hesitate to claim credit for the horrid display. I know not of the politics she spewed in reference, but I suspect the storm was more responsible than anything.
We continually tried to reason with her, the false queen of an empty fort, driven to insanity by the storm. Eze'kiel said the only thing he thought would get through to her, an offering of the throne. Clearly among other things, the storm had given her an immeasurable thirst for power. This offer somewhat assuaged her rage. I had no idea this effect was even remotely possible, I wouldn't have thought it a viable option but it worked. There was one thing, that got in the way of a peaceful resolution, the pride and stubbornness of the Taurus. Atrianna demanded Eze'kiel bow before her and relinquish the throne. He would never do that, and she knew it. The one thing I think she nor I predicted, was Eze'kiel's challenge to a duel.
Rite of combat is something integral to our culture. We are no strangers to fighting, or war. We are taught combat at a young age, and in turbulent times past, battle was a way to settle differences. It honestly still is, seeing as we are currently engaged in war, but war is different. There's less rules, and it's more about winning than honor. There are two types of fights, those for your life, and those for your pride. In my experience, it's the latter that is truly terrifying. I felt every ounce of that terror as, Eze'kiel and Atrianna went to battle.
The battle was swift, but largely indecisive. In the beginning, Atrianna was the clear candidate for splendor, but Eze'kiel unwilling to be put to shame, dealt a near lethal blow, that truly changed the tide and momentum of the fight. At first, we were unwilling to interfere. If Atrianna, had merely charged Eze'kiel with murderous intent, I would have immediately acted, and given him an edge. However, the rite of battle is near sacred to us, and since Eze'kiel issued the challenge, I thought it would be foolish to intervene. We tried to stop it using any outside influence possible. In a panic, I decided to contact Ator, to see if I could perhaps interact with the various shadow forms of Atrianna. I was hoping what we did with them would somehow reflect upon the version that stood before us. I requested Ator drop the barrier, and so he did.
Immediately, I felt the cold embrace of the shadows. I saw them swarming around me, a seemingly impossible number for the space we occupied, and as it turned out, this was my first true, unfiltered glimpse of the storm, or rather, what lies in it. The wracking cold, weighed heavy upon my mind, and I felt my sanity slipping. Normally, I think my approach to most situations, are honest, and genuine. For some reason through the veil of the storm, I was not able to connect with the sad shadow of Atrianna. I tried to speak with her, and she could hear me somewhat, but she didn't truly believe me to be there. She thought that my voice was some sort of trick. I chose my dialogue, rather poorly, and was unable to have any sort of positive influence on the copy of Atrianna. By the time I was willing to give up, the burden upon my mind had become to great for me to willingly stay any longer. With this, Ator re-erected the barrier. I saw Harald trying a similar method, based on the physical appearance of his body, I could barely make out what he was saying, but he seemed to be having better results.
After pulling my mind out of the shadows, I re-formed the collective, and immediately felt what Eze'kiel was going through. This was only part a fight for pride, the other parts being desperation, and love for his sister. He was willing to have her smash his head open, if it brought her back to her senses, AND HE WAS A DAMNED FOOL FOR THINKING IT! With that knowledge, I did not hesitate to enter the fray, I immediately set to work mending his wounds. In my hesitation to act, he was but one solid blow from death. At this point, Appolline also made her presence known. I could clearly feel Eze'kiel did not want her sister to be in any true mortal danger, but the rest of us did not share his sentiment. The true irony of the situation was that Eze'kiel brought her closer to mortal peril than any of us, but I suspect that was more of the initial desperation than anything. The whole situation was a damned mess.
Appolline's arrow failed to fell Atrianna, as she got one last swing into Eze'kiel, who took the blow in stride. I truly believe, the bit of mending I did truly mattered, so thank the three for that. The blow did knock him to the ground, but he was able to recover. He stood up, loudly declared that they were different, and the difference was that he had friends. He then proceeded to sprint around the room like a mad animal before closing in for an attack, and then he sprung. He charged her with speed never before seen from him, and smashed her across the head with the flat of his blade. I was sure with the amount of force and speed behind the hit, she had to be dead, but he must have landed that hit carefully, because her skull was not cracked open, and she was still breathing. She was however, very unconscious, and still bleeding from the blow he had dealt near the start of the battle. I mended her wounds as best as I could, and I felt Eze'kiel withdraw from the collective. This of course meant, that he too would try his hand with the shadows. Like all other things, what he said and did was mostly veiled to me, but I think whatever he did was good. When he re-entered the collective, I felt something so powerful, that it even brought a single tear of joy to my eye. It's rare that feelings of positiviy to have such a profound affect. Whatever, he said or did, to feel this way, I can only hope Atrianna feels the same when she wakes up.