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The Becoming: The Trials of Nuada Airgetlám – Part IV

Published January 3rd, 2014: Source

When Nuada emerged from The Depths it was into a very different world from the one he had left.  For you see back then, the normal passage of time had little meaning in that disturbing place. For example, when he made his way out of the first ley tunnel Nuada discovered that what had been a small settlement of the Tuatha  Dé Danann outside the tunnel had grown up into a proper town. More importantly, many of the people there had no idea of who he was, except a legendary figure. Nuada was more than a little perplexed by this, and the answer he received when he asked about the preceding years left him speechless.  Apparently, he had been gone over one hundred years and when he looked at his own reflection, he hadn’t aged a day. He was enraged by this unexpected news but his anger truly boiled over when an unlucky passerby told him of “Bres the Blessed” and his successful rule over their realm. It took all of what little remained of Nuada’s self-control not to behead that person for merely delivering this news.  Instead, Nuada simply took him by the throat and almost squeezed the life out of him before he realized the man was simply telling him the truth, at least as well as he understood it. Stalking off violently as a frustrated predator might after missing his prey, Nuada again swore to kill Bres. Once that was done he would return to The Depths and teach that damned merchant that Nuada was not to be trifled with, especially in his current state. He would then conquer The Depths and use its power to lead his people to an even greater standing within the Realms of this world and of course, earn more personal glory at the same time. And after that, who knows? With the full power of The Depths at his command, anything was possible!

Over the next decade Nuada traveled the land of the Tuatha  Dé Danann stirring up discontent among its people. Truth be told, while things seemed fine on the surface, underneath it a cauldron of anger was beginning a slow boil and Nuada had no qualms about raising the heat a few more degrees. There was much talk of trouble between the three Realms of this world. The unity that had been built over many a generation was beginning to show some signs of fraying at the edges. Nobody knew the cause of this disharmony but as best as Nuada could discover it started around the time he and his companions had entered The Depths. Putting these thoughts aside he gradually gathered around him a small army made up of the dregs of Tuatha  Dé Danann society. Drawn from all the known races of this Realm, he trained them without mercy, forging them into as powerful a weapon as his obsidian sword.

Word quickly spread about Nuada’s return throughout the land, along with tales, many exaggerated, of his army and of the “treasures” he’d somehow earned in The Depths. For you see, during the time that Nuada was in that foul place, it had gained a truly fearsome reputation. Few who went in there exited with enough left of their mental faculties intact to tell the tale of their misadventures and survival. However, what was talked about even more than The Depths was the sword that Nuada carried and wielded in battle. Tales of this sword sucking men’s souls as one would suck the marrow out of a bone, of it being intelligent, of it being the master of Nuada, all sprung up like the flowers of spring. Nuada not only welcomed such rumors, he encouraged them by staging certain events for the masses during his travels. If he had to put on a bit of a show to gain more support, he would do that. All that mattered to him was achieving all of his goals.  Only a few trusted companions, if they could be called that, knew the truth and as Nuada and his army neared Tír na nÓg, the land itself seemed to recognize the coming storm and itself had grown quiet. It was as if all the living things in his path simply decided to be somewhere else as he continued his relentless march to the capital city of the Tuatha  Dé Danann.

One glorious day, Nuada and his army reached the object of his obsession. They stood before the sealed gates of his former city just as the colors of the fall season had reached their zenith. With his army encamped before the great golden gates, Nuada sat astride a newly acquired black Phouka, obsidian sword in his right arm. Around him the nearby trees blossomed with their brightest and darkest reds while great golden leaves floated through the crisp morning air in a scene was worthy of a fine artist’s skill. On the battlements of the city Nuada could see the deadly archers of his Realm watching him as one would a wild animal that needed killing with a mixture of pity and fear. His sword seemed to pick up on these emotions and it hummed in his hands in the expectation of battle as he raised it high above his head. Nuada called out to Bres, challenging him to meet in single combat to decide the future of their people. Unfortunately for both Nuada and the sword, there was no response from the city. For days the gates remained closed and not even a messenger was sent from the city to Nuada. As the siege of Tír na nÓg began nobody, especially neither Bres nor Nuada, could have imagined how this event would one day unfold.

Over the next few months Nuada became increasingly frustrated, as the siege seemed to have very little effect on the city and its inhabitants. The capital city of the Realm of the Tuatha  Dé Danann had been built to be difficult to siege. Over the decades, new and more powerful enchantments had been laid on it by the city’s mages, strengthening those defenses. Nuada knew that only time and patience would carry the day, even if that day was years in length as he was prepared to wait as long as necessary to accomplish his goals. While his army’s ranks were slowly growing, the people within the city seemed to be carrying on their daily lives without interruption. The Festival of the Winter Court was held right on schedule and the sounds of much revelry and merrymaking were heard from within the city’s walls. While none of the usual scrying spells could look into the city, Nuada was sure that his siege was failing. Privately he began to think of defeat but whenever he did that, a quick glance at either his new arm his sword would replace that feeling with anger towards Bres and even his own people. How could they treat him this way, he thought. He was their first king! He had fought far many battles, slew countless abominations to keep them safe. And now, they swore allegiance to a being that was worthy neither of that nor anything else save death. When he was triumphant he would gather the Courts and discover those that had betrayed him and he would make them all pay, regardless of where his investigations led him, even if to his own family. And as winter’s grasp tightened on the city and his army, there were no signs that the resolve of either the city’s inhabitants or of Nuada was going to slacken anytime soon.

Months later, when the last of the winter’s snows began to melt, Nuada was still standing by the gates of his city, neither closer to walking through them nor of leaving them intact.  With the coming of spring, his anger bloomed as fully as the buds on the trees and he took out his anger on those around him.  As morale within his army began to fray, there came the first sign of a break in the interminable stalemate; someone from inside the city was captured upon leaving it, a Hamadryad healer. Brought to Nuada’s tent, he immediately recognized her as the one who had treated him so long ago. For the first time in more than a century (at least in the real-word), Nuada experienced a truly soft emotion, a remembrance of what she had once done for him. He walked over to her; arms open as if to embrace a long-lost relative but she recoiled from him in horror. He saw that her antennae twitched in warning while her tail moved into an aggressive stance.

“Don’t come near me. You are not Nuada, you are an abomination!” said the Hamadryad.

Thunderstruck by her words, for in Nuada’s mind he looked no differently than he always had, other than having a golden arm. He responded angrily to her. He told her that he was Nuada and other than replacing his arm, he hadn’t changed all that much. A little bit wiser perhaps but not truly different from the Tuatha  Dé Danann he was before Bres’ betrayal.

“You truly don’t see it?” she said, shaking her head so violently from side-to-side that Nuada thought she would harm herself.

“See what?” he said, “I see nothing but the one true king of this land and all of its people. It is you who are seeing things.”

“Your arm. It is that of a spider and that sword you carry radiates such evil that it lit up the sky for a day before your approach.”

“What has happened to you in my absence? My arm is made of metal true, but it serves me well. And my sword, it is not evil but simply a tool. A tool I will use to take back my city and rule it as I see fit,” said Nuada.

“You will rule what city?” said the Hamadryad, “There is no city left for you to rule.”

“You truly are insane,” said Nuada, with more than a touch of pity in his words, “I stand before the great capital city of Tír na nÓg while its people foolishly resist me and whose king is a coward who skulks in the city as befits the traitorous rat he has become.”

The Hamadryad was surprised at his words, once again shaking her head from side-to-side.

“Please my lord and king,” she said, adopting a new and softer tone, “What do you see before you?”

“If this is a game,” said Nuada, “I warn you, I am in no state for such frivolity.”

“Humor a poor healer who once saved your life,” she said, “Please tell me what you see.”

In the resigned tone usually reserved for use of parents with difficult children he said, “I see the great gates of this city. Etched in the purest gold, inlaid with some of the finest jewels they stand proudly before us. I see men and women on the city’s battlements, wearing the finest armor of our people and carrying our unique bows.”

“I see,” said the Hamadryad, “Do you see or hear anything else?”

“I hear the laughter of a people that are reveling in the new season. These people should be starving by now, yet they celebrate as if at the peak of the harvest season. I have searched for months for the hidden tunnels through which the city must get its supplies and have found nothing. Will you tell me where they are?” he replied.

“I promise you I will answer that question if you will do one simple thing for me,” said the Hamadryad.

“Ask,” replied Nuada quickly, for he was anxious to discover these hidden routes for once revealed, he could cut the egress of supplies into the city and the siege would end much more quickly.

“Let me touch you as I once did,” she said, gently as a mother would to a scared and wounded child.

“Is that all? Of course you may touch me. Know that if you trying to trick me, my touch upon your throat will be the last thing you will feel,” said Nuada smiling with more than a touch of evil upon his words.

“Of course, my gentle lord,” said she sarcastically in return, as she slowly walked up to him.

When the Hamadryad reached Nuada, she took her right hand and placed it upon Nuada’s head, not his arm as he expected. At first he thought this a trick but he remembered that she had done the same thing to him when he was first taken to her so many decades ago. He relaxed as she began a chant in the magical tongue of healers. Power immediately answered her words and it flowed through her. Her skin literally glowed from its effects as she worked her spell. His eyes started to close as a globe of purest light enveloped his head. As it swirled around Nuada, he screamed and in reaction to the pain, threw the kindly healer almost entirely across the tent. Nuada held his head as if it was being stabbed by hundreds of small daggers, trying to rein in his screams but failing utterly. His men too began experiencing the same pain as the healer continued her chanting. Rising from the ground the healer continued to summon great power which then spread throughout the army of Nuada. The screams reached their zenith, in a cacophony of pain and suffering that hadn’t been seen in this land for many generations. Fortunately, as quickly and as violently as they started the pain and the screaming suddenly ended. Shaking off the effects, Nuada strode purposely across the tent towards the healer, his storm crossed face betraying the only thought in his mind, to kill. The healer knew this too and she put out her right hand to Nuada as she kneeled before him.

“Strike my arm off if I have offended you Nuada but before you do, look at your own right arm first,” she said.

Without thinking, Nuada glanced down at this arm and what he saw horrified him. It was not a beautiful golden arm but rather it was that of a spider. Worse, the black sword that had been a thing of pride for him was a jagged creation of blades, spikes and bone. Refusing to believe what he saw he raised his sword to strike the healer.

“What have you done to me?” he said.

“Nothing more than removed the spell you were under my lord,” she said without fear, “If you don’t believe me, go outside the tent and show your men as if the reaction of those within don’t tell you enough truth to slake your desire for falsehood.”

Nuada looked around the tent and it was as she described. His men were indeed looking at him as if for the first time and they were frightened.

“This is impossible. It simply cannot be,” he said.

“It is but I wish it were not,” she replied sadly.

Nuada ran out of the tent and those of his army that saw him reacted as those who were in the tent. He ran through the camp, looking for anybody who could see the truth and not this distorted vision of him that the healer must be responsible for creating. Yes, he thought to himself, it was her fault. This must be a trick. Nuada was about to return to the tent to slay the healer and break the supposed enchantment when he saw that he was again before the gates of city. As horrifying as what he had seen so far, what stunned him even more was what he saw now.

The city’s gates were not golden, for they had been striped of any façade of wealth. Nor were they closed but they stood open for all to see. He had been sieging an open city? He looked upon the battlements and he didn’t see the expected troops but rather skeletons of dead men and women.

“This cannot be. I refuse this false vision,” he screamed.

“It is true Nuada, refuse it as you may,” said the healer who had silently crept up behind him and now stood behind him.

“What am I seeing?” he said imploringly.

“The truth, nothing more,” she said.

“What has happened here? To me, to our world?” he said.

“You are under a terrible spell Nuada. One of such power that I could only undo a part of it and I can only hold it at bay a short time longer. As to our city, it has been deserted for decades,” she said, “There are none of our people left alive in there. There is a but an evil statue of a one-eyed god named Balor.”

“I remember that statue from the battle against Bres,” replied Nuada.

“Yes, the statue was there too but then he was not a living creature or maybe he was and we didn’t know it yet. Now he is a malevolent being who sits there draining the life from our land and our people. His influence has spread throughout the land, corruption working its way from town to town through the ground itself,” answered the healer.

“And Bres?” said Nuada.

“He stole the treasures from the city and with a band of his followers, deserted the city decades ago. The people he left as payment to Balor and sadly, the one-eyed creature has been repaid in full for helping Bres defeat you.”

“I will avenge myself against Balor and then I will find Bres and kill him and recapture our treasures,” said Nuada, true anger welling up in him.

“As much as I wish this to be true, I cannot lie to you. You are not the king you once were.”

“Not so! I feel better than ever. This arm might look like a nightmare but it fights like a dream as does the sword.”

“It is illusion my lord. I can see the damage that the arm and sword have done to your body and it is considerable. You are nearing your end as the arm is as surely taking your life from it as is the sword.”

“You lie!” said Nuada, but this time, with little conviction.

The healer shook her head sadly and once again took a knee before him. She took out her own weapon and handed it to Nuada.

“If you truly believe that, strike me down but I pray you, use my weapon not yours. I wish to cause you no more pain than I already have this day,” said the healer.

Nuada raised her weapon as if about to strike her with it but he stopped in mid-stroke as he looked deeply into her eyes. She was full of pity, not for herself but rather of for him. He saw the same face that tended him for so many difficult days and the hands that brought him back to life. As much as he wanted to believe what he had seen before, he always knew that something was wrong with the deal he had been given. He didn’t want to believe the truth; the lie was so much more pleasant and easy to accept. As he did in The Depths, he once again raised his Veilsight and as its power gathered around him, he hung his head sadly.

“No. I cannot, I know that you are right. About me… About this accursed weapon… I have failed again.”

“No Nuada, you have not failed yet. There may still be hope for you and our people.”

Thus ends Part IV.