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Muirne and the Truth

Muirne and the Truth

A long, long time ago, there was a good king who ruled over the kingdom of Atlantis. He was also very wise; the land flourished and the people of Atlantis prospered. All was well and good, and he was happy. This king had three daughters: Eimhir, the oldest, was just as good and wise as her father, and was groomed to lead the kingdom one day as its new queen. She was skilled with both arts of the mind and body, and it was said she knew every citizen of Atlantis by name. Ròs, the middle child, was the most beautiful woman in all the land, and many suitors came to ask for her hand. But she was also hopelessly romantic, and was waiting for her true love to come riding down the road and sweep her off her feet. The youngest daughter was named Muirne, and she was neither as skilled as Eimhir nor as beautiful as Ròs, but all who met her said that she seemed to draw all of the light in the room. She trained heavily with her sword, which was named Brandubh (Brandow) and was said to have been enchanted by a sorcerer many years ago, so that she may better defend the kingdom that she so loved. One evening, an old storyteller came to the palace, and was admitted as an honored guest, as was the custom in those days. He was served a fine dinner, and was enchanted by the king and his three daughters, each stunning in their own way. After he had had his fill, the king asked of him. “We would have you honor us with a story, oh wise one.” “Alas,” the storyteller said, “I have not a story of the past, but one of the future.” “An augury, then?” “Ai, I have had a vision. A dream. In this dream I saw a terrible evil come to destroy your peaceful land, my king, and more, the entire world. No arrow can pierce it, nor fire burn it, for it is not of this world.” “There has to be something we can do.” The king responded. The storyteller nodded. “There is one. I saw a great warrior defeating the evil and sealing it away. Furthermore, I somehow knew that this warrior was one of your daughters, my king. She will venture under the Dragons’ Teeth, slog through the Swamp of Desolation and traverse the Forest of Whispers, before finding the evil in a temple long forgotten.” Perhaps another king would have laughed and called the storyteller a fool, but not the King of Atlantis. He knew it wise to listen to the words, and obey his command. The storyteller turned down the offer of a night’s stay and made his leave, trundling out into the cold night. The king then turned to his daughters. “It seems a grave task has been laid before you, and one of your number must venture out into the wilderness and save our kingdom. Eimhir, you are the oldest, are you not?” “And also future queen.” She cut in. “I cannot risk my life on such a long and dangerous quest.” The king nodded, agreeing that this was sound. “Ròs,” he asked, turning to his second daughter. “I have spent hardly a day training with a bow or sword.” She shook her head. “I would not survive such a task.” The king agreed with this as well. “Father.” Muirne began. “If you’ll permit me, I am both trained and willing. I will venture under the Dragons’ Teeth, slog through the Swamp of Desolation and traverse the Forest of Whispers, before finding the evil in a temple long forgotten.” The king hesitated. For she was his youngest, and his favorite daughter. But he knew that her words were true. “Very well.” He permitted. “I pray for your safety, my child.” The next morning, she gave her father and sisters a tearful farewell. “Sister,” Eimhir said, “take these nuts, so that you may always have something to eat.” She handed Muirne a pack of salted nuts, which she took gratefully. “Sister,” Ròs now added, “take this mirror, so that you may always remember your beauty and grace.” Muirne raised an eyebrow, but thanked her and took the gift none the less. “Daughter,” said the king, finally stepping forwards himself, “take this compass, so that you may always know the way forward.” "Thank you sisters, and father, for your gifts. I will miss you all more than I can say.” The three sisters embraced, and wept. But soon it was time for her to begin her quest, and so Muirne set off along the road towards her first obstacle, the Dragon’s Teeth. They were a series of cliffs that were sharp and jagged like the teeth of a dragon, and the trenches below were splintered like a maze. Many warriors had gotten lost and perished in its grasp. Muirne remembered the gift her father had given her, the compass, but when she took it out, she saw that it didn’t point north at all. Why would her father give her a broken compass? He wouldn’t. Perhaps it pointed to something other than north. So she took the compass in hand and began her journey through the crevice. She travelled for three days and nights, wandering through the silent stone, but she was never lost. Whenever she reached a crossroads, the compass pointed in the direction she needed to go. Before long, Muirne could see the end of the Dragons’ Teeth ahead of her. But they weren’t willing to let her go so easily. “Who goes there?” Asked a voice. Muirne looked upwards to see a man floating above her. He must have been a wizard, or sorcerer of some kind. “I am Muirne, the youngest princess of Atlantis. Who might you be, my good wizard?” “My name is Gilveidan the All-Knowing, and I am not a wizard but a warlock. I’m afraid I cannot let you pass.” He explained that he knew of her quest, and that he would not allow her to pass without first defeating him. Muirne readied her sword Brandubh but before she could strike, the warlock was gone. A second later, he appeared behind her, and nearly struck her down. “Why are you smiling?” His voice asked from the air. Indeed she was smiling, for Muirne was looking down at her compass. Now she finally realized what it was pointing towards. The nearest source of magic. Without warning, the needle spun around to behind her again, and Muirne struck out with Brandubh, and cut the warlock’s cheek. She held the sword to his throat, and the warlock conceded defeat. “My life is forfeit. Do what you will with me.” The warlock hung his head. “I would have you come with me.” Muirne replied. “I have need of your magical prowess.” And so the two continued out of the Dragons’ Teeth, and into the swamp of desolation. Here the air was heavy and moist, and the trees blocked out most of the light, so that the ground was wet and soupy beneath their feet. Here and there were pools of bubbling mud. “That is not mud at all,” the warlock corrected Muirne, “But a living thing. They will devour you whole if you step in them.” So they continued through the swamp, avoiding the puddles and all of the other things that lurked in the shadows. But eventually they came to a large pool of the living mud that stretched as far as they could see in both directions. “You go to the right, and I’ll go to the left,” Muirne commanded, “and we’ll meet back here at sunset. We must see if we can find the edge of this mud.” Muirne went her way, and the warlock went his, but when they both returned at sunset neither of them had found the edge of the pool. In frustration, the warlock cast a pall of darkness onto the pool, but it only seemed to grow bigger. This made Muirne think. If it ate the darkness, perhaps it feared the light. Yet how could she pull the sun through the deep trees. Then she smiled. She pulled out the mirror that Ròs had given her. It seemed it would have a use after all. She pointed it at a shaft of light that peaked through the trees and aimed it at the mud. It almost seemed to squeal as it shrunk away, providing a path for Muirne and the warlock to traverse. In this manner they proceeded through the swamp, and within two days the ground grew firm once more, and the trees no longer drooped so low over the dirt path. They had arrived in Forest of Whispers. Here was calm and peace, at least compared to the bleakness they left behind. The trees swooshed in the breeze, and the light landed in dappled patches on the soft ground. For a while Muirne and the warlock simply travelled in silence, enjoying the wind that almost seemed to whisper around them. However, soon the sun was setting through the trees, and they found themselves no closer to the end. They made camp for the night, and all the while the wind blew fiercer, as if trying to speak. The next morning they continued on their way, but found themselves passing trees they knew they had passed just yesterday. The wind nearly blew them off their feet with its strength, yet suddenly, they could hear it speaking: “None shall pass these woods who do not give an offering. You must give us a piece of your hearts, or you shall wander these woods forever more.” “But how are we to give you our hearts and live?” the warlock asked the wind. But the wind made no reply. Muirne sat and thought. A piece of her heart. She feared she had none left to give. Most of her heart lay back in Atlantis, with her father and her sisters, just as they had given pieces of their hearts to her... She smiled, and pulled out the bag of nuts that Eimhir had given her. “Wind,” she said, “Take this, a gift from my sister, a piece of her heart for me.” Opening the bag, the nuts flew away into the breeze, which gradually slowed to a halt. Out of a hole in a nearby tree, a tiny person appeared. “Well done.” She smiled. “I am the spirit of this forest, and you have succeeded in my test. You are worthy to continue your quest, travelers.” The small spirit bowed, and pointed the way out of the forest. “Past here you will pass three doors. No matter what you see, you must not go through the first two. The evil that you seek lies through the third door.” Muirne and the warlock thanked the spirit and continued on their way. On the edge of the woods, they started to see stones and crumbling structures, and gradually, they found themselves in the ruins of a city. Neither of them had known such a thing to exist. As they looked, they found no doors, no wood could survive this amount of decay. But as Muirne was passing an empty doorway, the interior began to glow, and ripple, like water. “Why have you stopped?” The warlock asked. “Can’t you see it? The door,” she replied, but the warlock just shook his head. As Muirne stared at the doorway, she could see someone in the shadows beyond, multiple people. There was her father, and her two sisters: Eimhir and Ròs, smiling and waving back at her. “Come join us,” they said, “Home is just through this door.” She took a step forward, but the warlock stopped her, reminding her of what the forest spirit had told them: to not go through the first two doors. Muirne paused, but she knew that he was right, and turned away from the door. And on they continued. Before long, the warlock froze as well, and gazed at an empty doorway. His hands shook, and he almost didn’t seem to breathe. Now it was Muirne’s turn to remind him that it was not real. He turned away, but would not answer when Muirne asked him what he had seen. They walked on for a long time more, looking for doorways, and just as the sun was sinking behind the ruins, they saw a tall structure looming over them. A temple to a forgotten god. And there, where the arches formed a doorway, was a black hole. It did not lead to the interior of the temple, but to somewhere else entirely. Muirne and the warlock steeled themselves. This was the door they were to enter. But it seemed to them that there was something lurking through it, something they had never seen before. But destiny was to have its way, and so, Muirne leading and the warlock following behind, they entered the dark abyss. Beyond the doorway was pitch blackness, but under her, Muirne felt a stairway leading down. The warlock muttered something under his breath and a bloom of fire appeared in his hand, but it appeared that the darkness was unnatural in nature, and the fire did little to exterminate it. They walked downwards for a long time, once stopping to drink and snack on hardtack before continuing. After a while they felt the staircase end, and the chamber widen before them. Muirne paused as she heard something, and after a second, the warlock did as well. Breathing. They were not alone in this dark place. It was the warlock who saw the Truth of the evil first, and he froze in place, his eyes wide. Muirne followed his gaze, and she too saw the Truth. It was indescribable, like nothing she had ever seen before. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. She could only stare. The truth was that she had been sent here to die. The evil grinned down at them, or at least should have, could have been grinning. Muirne almost turned and ran. But she suddenly found her sword Brandubh in her hand, glowing brighter than any light. It was then she knew what she must do. The warlock nodded, understanding as well as she did what must happen. They could not kill this evil, so they must seal it in a place where no one would ever find it. The warlock used his limited powers of light to hold the evil in place while Muirne slashed and stabbed it. It screamed, a sound that nearly shattered the marrow in her bones. But she held on, and together, the three of them fell into darkness. Most tales end happily, with the hero triumphant, returning home to glory and fortune. This is not those stories. In fact, this is not the true story at all. A patchwork pieced together from fact and rumor. And more important yet: This story is not yet finished.

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