Pulling herself up and over the cliff edge Brianna sighed in relief, she had finally made it to the top. At last, there before her, the stone bridge that led to the entrance of the dark and dingy coastal fort.
“Stripe me pink, I am exhausted,” Brianna huffed and puffed to herself, quietly trying to catch her breath from the strenuous climb up the rock face. Lying still she listened for movement, the rolling thunderous sea is all that could be heard, crashing on the jagged rocks hundreds of feet below.
The fortification, a coastal outpost, had been seized by the Fomhóraigh (Fomorians) during one of their many attempts to invade the land of Eire. The Fomhóraigh come from the subterranean sea caverns that lay beneath the deep offshore ocean waters, they are frightful creatures, known to cause havoc and destruction. On each occasion when the Fomhóraigh have attempted to invade the lands above they have been successfully defeated. The last attempt by the invading sea dwellers however, allowed them to secure the coastal castle and they have held it defiantly, their stronghold between the surface and the realm they dwell in far below. The people of Eire and the Fomhóraigh are at a stalemate, each side cautious, waiting for the other to make a move, all closely watched by the Fae folk, hidden about the land, masked as fauna of Eire.
Hiding out of site, Brianna glanced down at a shallow puddle beside her. The dim light of a partially cloud covered moon allowed a mirror reflection of her, shimmering, rippling on the stony platform. Her reflection stared back up at her, a defiant, rampant mid-teenaged young woman, athletic in stature, long wild hair, peaches and cream coloured skin, blotched with bruises, lined with scratches, and etched with a scar or two, all evidence of her wild and dangerous adventures past. Around her village, she is known for her quick wit and sharp mind. Her ingenuity, mingled with the use of magic, had heightened since discovering the ‘Ogma tome’. She has led herself on many a quest gaining the skills, capabilities, and dexterity of a novice mage. Her risky life reflected back upon her, knee length boots, tough upper body leather armour, tight leather elbow length gloves, all, scratched, torn and battered.
Brianna huddled against a cold stone pillar, scouring the entrance to the fort. Commitment was at hand, there would be no going back once she crossed over into the fortress. The bridge lay suspended between the Fomorian fortifications that sat on a high central pillar of stony crag alongside the rocky coastal headland, stretching over waves that tumbled onto an inaccessible shore line below. The tide now turning, the advantage point that allowed her to gain access to the upper bridge was fading fast, time was up, she had to make her move.
Under the cover of shadows, she moved from pillar to pillar, skirting the old stone gangway, making sure to avoid detection. She had to keep a safe distance from the edge, only a rusted chain slung between the ageing war torn pillars separated her from a plunging death on the craggy coastline below. She weaved her way toward the Fomorian lair demonstrating the skills of stalking huntress.
Two thirds of the way across the bridge and a whiff of a briny fishy smell, wafted past her, an indication the Fomorians were close by, she would need to be on her guard here on in. The stench of the fishy Fomorians became increasingly pungent, she halted her advance taking shelter behind the nearest pillar, edging dangerously close to the ledge, one-foot wrong and it is certain death.
The overwhelming stink, the sound of reptilian motion, the scratching of talon claws, the slither of scaly flesh, dragging. Brianna held her breath, dry reaching, desperate not to cough and choke on the pungent odour burning the back of her nose and throat, she glimpsed at the Fomorian guards passing by her vantage point.
Satisfied that the threat was now past, the pungency in the air had become a little less pongy, Brianna moved from behind the pillar and crept quickly through the entrance of the fortification structure. Once inside she used the internal columns, walls, and meagre furnishings to mask her presence, working her way to the steps that led to the lower levels.
The steps down to the tunnels and caverns below circled in a tight downward spiral formation. As Brianna moved deeper below the darker it became to a point where she couldn’t see at all. Feeling for her utility belt, that sat slouched just above her hips, she plucked a small bag containing a crimson coloured sparkling powder. Placing a few pinches of the powder onto her palm Brianna took a deep breath and exhaled blowing the speckled compound into the air whilst chanting a spell.
“Taispeáin céimeanna me,” (Show me steps) she whispered.
The sparkling red powder formed a small funnel shaped, wind torrent, swirling in mid-air out from the steps into the open void. Bursting into a sprinkle of very fine light it settled on the outer edge of each step of the spiralling staircase twisting down below. Upon contact with the cold damp stone it glowed a dull orange red, just enough for Brianna to navigate her way down into the interior of the fortress.
Reaching the lower level, she peered around into the main corridor, listening and occasionally sniffing the air for Fomorian presence. Satisfied that it was safe to proceed, she moved into the passageway, edging herself along its cold damp musty inner wall. The lower levels were dimly lit with slow burning flamed torches making this area a lot more reasonable to manoeuvre, unlike the steep spiral staircase leading from the fortress above.
As Brianna moved about the passageway she found an anti-chamber with more generous lighting. Considering whether to explore, her mind was soon made up with the sudden approach of an ever brightening, ’white light’. The light was pooled, similar to a beam from the moon, but given she was deep inside a rocky tower pillar, it was unlikely a glow of celestial radiance from the heavens above. Slipping inside the chamber she peered back into the corridor of stone. There it was hovering in mid-air, her reason for being here, the famous floating sword ‘Orna’, prize possession of the Fomorian King, Tethra.
The sword patrolled the lower level, it moved in a guardian pattern, first advancing, blade forward, slight turns, left and right, then up and down, when satisfied that the forward area was secure it would rotate swiftly, one hundred and eighty degrees, examining the rear repeating the ‘on guard’ process. When reaching the base of the tower’s spiral staircase, the sword would linger a little longer, appearing to consider any possible intrusion from the upper level. Brianna counted her lucky stars that she was able to get this far without detection.
The bright pool of light from the floating sword began to fade as it continued hovering forwards on its vigilant mission. Brianna took the opportunity to quickly investigate the anti-chamber.
“Could it be, surely not?” Brianna pondered to herself, looking across at the far wall, mounted vertically, a sword scabbard. She closed her eyes recalling the images she had seen in the ‘Ogma Tome’, describing the historical features of great Irish treasures. The tome chronicled the scabbard in detail, made from leather, gold, and sparkling jewels. The lower end, the chape, brass, polished to gleam like gold, a central golden rim sat half way up the leather sheath and finally a golden locket at the top studded with precious jewels, a visual extravagance of a King.
Brianna opened her eyes and gazed upon the scabbard, she was slightly shocked it was an exact match to the description of the Ogma tome, edging her way around the wall she inched toward to the mounted sword scabbard. Taking a deep breath, she reached up and teased it gently from the wall mountings. Both the locket and the chape ends of the scabbard came away with surprising ease, “too easy,” she thought to herself. The centre of the scabbard however, was not as cooperative and it held stubbornly fast. Applying more and more physical pressure, pulling, yanking at the scabbard, Brianna found herself wondering if it had been locked, fastened to the wall by an enchanter’s spell.
“Shaorann,” (liberate) commanded Brianna in a soft voice, waving her hand in front of the scabbard confidently.
‘Wham,’ a wave of energy burst from the scabbard, knocking Brianna onto her rear, breathless.
“Stripe me pink,” mumbled Brianna under her breath. Feeling dishevelled from the ordeal, Brianna stood and brushed herself down shaking her head from side to side clearing her hair from in front of her eyes. Having a slight headache and feeling a little dizzy, from the force of the energy wave, it became apparent she was dealing with a very powerful ‘clasping spell’. Looking back at the scabbard her spell had at least divulged the hidden culprit. The wall revealed a clenched hand that had been masked to the naked eye. The block stone had been enchanted with a spell that held the scabbard in a vice like grip, held tight by a giant closed ghostly fist. Brianna stared at the bewitching hand grasped around the scabbard, infuriatingly it mocked her, reaching further out from the wall taunting the scabbard toward her, at the same time waving its index finger in a “No, no, no, don’t touch, you cannot have,” annoying silence.
Brianna struggled to contain the anger welling up inside her, frustrated by the mute mocking hand, she wished she had a powerful spell to hex it’s insulting motion, banishing the impertinent fist to an eternity of solid cold, lifeless stone.
Concerned about the time taken to get the scabbard and the commotion in the room, Brianna moved back to the entrance of the antechamber, she poked her head into the corridor, checking that the floating sword, nor any other Fomorian beast, had been alerted to her presence, all clear, all quiet, all good, another short sigh of relief.
Determined to obtain the ‘Orna’ scabbard, Brianna placed her face into her hands in deep thought. “Oooh maybe this,” feeling along her utility belt she unclipped a scroll case. Opening the cylindrical tube, she teased free a tightly rolled parchment. Unravelling, she moved to a brighter lit area of the antechamber, enabling her to read the cryptic text. First the wave of review, here the right hand is waved over the scroll in a ‘C’ formation, allowing the holder to read the scroll without casting the spell. “Yes this could work, the scroll of deliverance.” Brianna moved her hand once again across the scroll this time from left to right in a triangular fashion, to activate the magic written, embedded deep within the fibres of the parchment. Muttering the words Brianna cast the ‘spell of deliverance’.
’Boom,’ a wave of energy emanating forward from Brianna struck the hand gripping the scabbard. The hand in the wall shook, tussled, and shuddered, fighting the power of the magic scroll. Brianna had not cast this spell before and it was of great interest to her watching the effects of the magic scroll wrestling with the enchanted hand.
The scroll, in an unexpected surprise, shot forth from her hand, rolling itself up into a tight stout pipe. It flew through the air and started to strike the shuddering enchanted hand. Hit after hit the scroll whacked the hand until finally, reluctantly, it released the scabbard from its clutches, defeated. “Well that’s certainly not what I expected,” smiled Brianna to herself, “Oooh stripe me pink, the scabbard is falling to the floor.”
Brianna dived forward to catch the scabbard before it struck the dense stone floor causing a frightful din, however this was all in vein. The wall began to transform to something more than just an angry clenched fist, what were once stone blocks now held the image of a very outraged Fomorian King, Tethra.
Fortunately for Brianna the image of Tethra was enchanted into the structure of the wall much like paint is to a canvas in a hanging work of art, however the features of the king’s body became three dimensional which was not good news for her, but it at least limited him to the confines of the stone wall.
“THEIF,” bellowed the image of Tethra, “THEIF,” it continued to ‘roar’.
“STRIPE ME PINK,” yelled Brianna in fright, desperately trying to figure out how to silence the wall image. Having no immediate solution, she decided, it was time to run!
Brianna sprang from the room of the wailing wall, landing directly into the pathway of the flying sword ‘Orna,’ who in response to the sound of the king’s angry rant, was hurtling at high speed through the centre of the lower corridor. In an instant Brianna dived forward, rolling under the flying sword that was in line to strike her forehead, dead centre. Successfully ducking the flying sword, she moved swiftly, looking over her shoulder from time to time, gauging the swords position and movements. The sword, ‘Orna,’ realising it had overshot the target, slowed its pace, rotated one hundred and eighty degrees and commenced pursuit, closing in rapidly on the terrified young mage.
As Brianna ran down the dim stony corridor the unmistakable waft of briny fishy Fomorian creatures intensified. Orna the sword flying rapidly behind her, the pungency becoming overwhelming in front, the sound of slithering reptiles approaching, Brianna had to think and most importantly, act fast.
Another staircase appeared heading further down in a rectangular pattern, it followed the stone walls to greater depths, certainly into greater danger, but there was no other viable option. She noticed torches unlit on the walls, at this point there was no need for stealth, the fortress was well and truly aware of her infiltration, it was now a case of doing whatever to survive!
“Solas Dóiteáin!” she shouted, thrusting her arm forward, still running at full pace, clutching the scabbard in the other. Each torch on the downward staircase burst into a roaring flame lighting her way. This had an additional advantage that she had not considered, the intensity of the bright flaming torches bursting into life was too much for the dark cave dwelling Fomorians to endure, temporarily blinding them as their eyes reconditioned themselves to the bedazzling flash of intense brightness.
Brianna needed to reach her scrolls, which were now jostling about her body violently. In the haste to secure the scabbard she had not organised herself with an easy access to, ‘the scroll of retrieval,’ that she had packed earlier that day for the quest.
Leaping down the stairs two, three, four at a time Brianna noticed a spear leaning against the wall. Seizing it up, she spun around on the next landing holding up the weapon with both hands defensively. It was both a fortunate find and a timely move as the floating sword ‘Orna’ was now bearing down rapidly upon her.
Using her new found spear to fence with the floating sword, Brianna was able to keep it at bay, however, the Fomorian forces were coming up from the depths below and they had become well-adjusted to the flaming torch light. They were frighteningly, just one staircase landing, away from her. With one eye on the sword and the other on two advancing Fomorians, clambering up behind her, she timed her next movement with precision.
With a powerful twisting thrust downwards, lunging to the edge, she was able to use the spear to fling the incoming tip of the Orna sword blade into the solid wall, ’bang, screech!’ the powerful steely sword sparked against the solid stone. No time to hesitate, she performed another quick rotation of the spear positioning it in the edge of the lower stair, allowing her to use it as a pole vault flying across the open air gap to the landing below. This shocked the advancing Fomorians who had just made the landing below Brianna’s original position, they watched in dismay as she flew over their heads, it was truly an epic feat of athleticism.
Having escaped, temporarily, from the sword and the Fomorian beasts, Brianna continued leaping down the stairs, finally reaching the bottom. The sword, recomposed from its clash with the wall, propelled itself down the centre of the stair case, soaring over Brianna’s head. Orna’s swift approach was so close, she could feel the cold steel grazing her scalp, slicing a hair or two on its thrust through, Brianna grit her teeth pulling her head down into her shoulders, “oooh that was too close!” Orna the sword came to an abrupt halt, it hovered, rotated, but this time it drew itself back, moved a little higher, a little to the left, Brianna wasn’t sure if the sword was teasing her but she quickly realised it was positioning itself to inflict a mighty, deathly, lunging blow to her cranium!
Thinking quickly, her options waning, what to do? “Ooh the scabbard!” Brianna held up the jewelled leather sheath, forcing it into view between her and the hovering sword, who immediately recognised it. The sword waivered, hesitating, neither swinging back or forward just bobbing, jerking a little, it appeared to be in a state of confusion.
The Fomorians had now turned and were advancing back down the stairs toward Brianna. They had seen the sword bailing her up and assumed it was holding her, awaiting their arrival.
Brianna held the scabbard up defiantly to Orna with one hand, the other rummaging along her belt feeling for another scroll container. Time was of the essence, the sword was unpredictable and the Fomorians continued their decent. She had to take a chance, she dare not fumble with the scabbard. Finding the tube, she hastily pulled out the scroll. Placing one end in her mouth she unwound the parchment.
Scabbard in one hand, the bottom of the scroll between her teeth, Brianna edged the top of the parchment between her small and inner finger only just able to clasp it from rolling up on itself. Her other hand now free she made the triangular sign of ‘activation’. Reading the words from the scroll, green waves of mist twisted and curled out of the aged parchment. Wrapping around the scabbard, it meandered its way to the locket end, pouring into the internal sheath like water into cup. The Fomorians were now just a short staircase away and Brianna knew she was out of time, this had to work and it hard to work now!
The scabbard shook violently taking on a life of its own, two green arms of misty smoke with swiping, grasping hands popped out of the top appearing to seek, snatch, and grab. The arms extended longer than anything normal that fashioned limbs and they seized the floating Orna sword by its hilt. The sword hovering, fought the green misty smoky arms, slicing and stabbing at the yellow-green smoke with no apparent success, they held the sword tight. Brianna too held on as tight as she could, wrestling with the vigorous jerking jewelled leather sheath. The combined forces of the hands and the sword, both in a desperate fight to dominate one another, pulled Brianna in all directions violently. The will of the green mist hands was stronger than the sword, the magic of the inked parchment was very powerful. Brianna watched, amazed, as the hands pulled the sword down into scabbard, both hands and sword, fighting to the last, until finally Orna was fully concealed, the spell of retrieval had prevailed, and only just in the nick of time. The Fomorians had arrived, they were reaching to restrain Brianna, and she felt their damp slimy hands attempting to grasp her upper arms.
Having retrieved Orna the flying sword, Brianna ducked to her left, twisting away from the creatures and commenced running down another nearby passage. Leaping over large blocks of stone, littered from ages of deterioration, she dashed and hurdled the obstacle course with athletic prowess. Rounding a bend, she tried to calculate how far down inside the rocky cliff she had travelled. “Stripe me pink,” she cried out in horror, sliding, skidding, stumbling to an almost tripping fall, desperate to slow her body motion, pulling herself up.