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The tale of Nuada Part 7
The outer skin of the Merchant’s tentacles was thick and rubbery, holding Nuada fast as he struggled. Twisting round, the former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann swept his blade through the horrors that surrounded him and the Merchant as they wrestled. The things reached out fearlessly with their chubby, grasping limbs to weigh him down, wear him out.
However, Nuada’s silver arm didn’t tire easily. Little by little, he forced his way closer to the Merchant, through the press of nightmarish tentacles and small creatures.
The Merchant only grinned wider, his cherubic face framed by the writhing mass. “You wonder why I am so calm?” he sneered. “You really don’t understand a single thing about our home, do you? We are legion within The Depths. You may kill some of us now, you may even defeat me, but you cannot defeat us all. We are many. We are one. We will always return.” With this last phrase, the Merchant hurled Nuada away with great force.
Despite his bruised body, the Tuathan twisted in midair, landing safely in a puddle of ichor. Picking himself up, Nuada panted as he gripped his sword in his silver hand, keenly aware of the blood of the slain that dripped down his body and along his weapon. “I will destroy you. Even if it takes the remainder of my life,” said Nuada, “Even if it means a true death. And if I do perish, only to fail? Others will rise to destroy this place of horror. Of that, you may be certain.”
“So stupid, so sweet, so, so naïve!” chuckled the Merchant, raising himself up on far too many limbs. “Your people won’t destroy this place! They will fight to learn its secrets. And when those secrets are discovered, the survivors will fight one another to learn more.”
The raging battle all around seemed to fade away for Nuada, as if it were very far away. The Merchant’s hypnotic face seemed very near. His eyes glittered darkly, endless hallways into nothing.
“These are but our first steps, Nuada. There are many dances yet to come.” The Merchant began swaying from side to side. Before Nuada could cut him down, the swaying form shimmered, transforming into something else. Where the Merchant had been, a young woman now stood, smiling in her blue dress.
Nuada gaped as Nimue raised her arms to him in greeting. She was alive, free, and happy.
He didn’t see the pouncing horror behind him until it leapt upon his neck. With a cry, he spun and ripped it off, but not before the thing bit deep into him, injecting a burning venom. His flesh was torn with a deep, bloody wound.
Falling to a knee and grasping the warm-gushing wound in his neck, he looked up at the illusory Nimue advancing upon him, an eerie giggle playing about her lips. He could not move to avoid her. She smelled of flowers and snow. Then Nuada heard an unexpected sound.
“Charge!” Miach roared as he joined the battle. The fake Nimue’s head jerked up. Two Dvergar were running through the open space in the center of the birthing room. The pair of them looked down at their feet, heads pointed forward; their crowns grew stonier as they ran, and in seconds they looked like rock-covered battering rams, rushing inexorably forward.
Nimue’s form shimmered back to the Merchant’s, but before he could react, the two Dvergar struck him in the gut with incredible combined force. There was a crunch, and the Merchant was thrown backward, tumbling end over end.
His battering ram head melting back into his body, Miach straightened up and laughed. Then he spotted Nuada crouching in pain. “Healer! You’d better come and help our fearless leader. He got quite a love bite from one of these nasties!” Miach punctuated his holler by squashing one of the creatures between his stone-encrusted hands.
The Hamadryad ran to Nuada’s side, beating abominations out of her way as she went. Laying a hand on him, her power sealed his wound. She muttered, “Relax, Nuada. The battle is over for you. We’ll take care of him.”
“Yeah. Now that the Dvergar are here, this won’t take much longer,” bragged Miach, brushing his hands together to shake loose gobbets of gore. “Besides, look at that winged beauty over there, why, she’s barely bent a feather!” Full of pride, he yelled, “How long can a Viking fight?”
All the Vikings in the room responded, “All the day and through the night!”
Nuada wasn’t paying them much attention. He struggled to hold steady on his knees as the burning sensation of the venom worked its way through. “The Merchant must be mine,” he coughed weakly. “Healer, I know you can do something about this poison that weakens me.” He struggled to his feet.
“Not that one, Nuada. I’m so sorry,” she shook her head and tail sadly.
“Don’t lie to me. I finally understand who you are,” said Nuada. “Perhaps the taint of The Depths has fallen from my mind. I finally remember.”
“Took you long enough,” Miach muttered, as he tossed an abomination into the crowd.
“You are of the Alsea.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as his companions held off the rushing monstrosities. “The mother of your people,” said Nuada, “Hamadryas.”
“Yes Nuada, I am she,” Hamadryas nodded.
“You remember the way to call forth life. You have the power to restore me…don’t you?” said Nuada, coughing.
“Yes, though it would come at a terrible price for you,” Hamadryas answered, clenching her aching fingers.
“I am prepared to pay any price,” he said hoarsely.
“To what end, Nuada?” she asked, “To kill, and kill again?”
“To save my friends, our people. To begin restoring the balance of nature in our Realm… That is worth any price to me.” He grasped her wrist with his bloodstained silver hand and stared into her strange eyes. “Even eternal oblivion, if need be.”
She sighed. “I wish you hadn’t said that, Nuada. Though at the same time…I am proud of you. Miach, hold him down. As I well know, this is going to hurt.”
The battle raged around them, life and death flowing through the chamber as Nuada struggled to breathe. Hamadryas called upon all of her powers, old skills she had long known but little used. Taking the wound upon herself, she poured power into Nuada to drive out the poison. Draining herself of her deepest reserves, Hamadryas bestowed strength and speed upon the king of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Invigorated, his eyes flashing, Nuada jumped to his feet.“Take care of her, Miach. I will return as soon as I am able.” With that, he leapt toward the Merchant once more, who was busily retracting his twisting tentacles. As Nuada approached, the Merchant glanced up in alarm, then slipped out a hidden side exit.
Nuada was about to follow him when he heard Miach’s voice. “Wait! How about using some of that newfound strength to free Nimue and John,” the Dvergr shouted, “Unless you’re just too busy?”
Nuada stopped in his tracks. He could not again forget his friends in the rush for revenge. “Valkyrie. Give me a boost!” he shouted, running toward her.
Just below the giant iron pentagram that held Nimue, the Valkyrie knelt with cupped hands. Nuada jumped, and the Valkyrie tossed him into the air over her head. He landed atop the pulsing, sucking birth tube, barely keeping his balance on the slick glass.
Nuada leaned down to Nimue’s fearful, pained face, and wrenched the awful tube from her mouth in a spray of black liquid. As she coughed and gasped for breath, the tube gurgled its sludge angrily onto the ground. With a few quick strokes of his sword, Nuada cut her free, helping her from the altar. As she slumped over shuddering, Nuada muttered, “Rest, brave one. You suffered so much for your noble deed.”
He turned to find the young, stern-faced Tuathan man already at John’s side, cutting away the pustules with expert bladework. As each spiny thing burst with a disgusting splash of ichor, the man didn’t even flinch. Once free, John had just enough strength to give Nuada a shaky smile before he too fell unconscious and slid into the Valkyrie’s waiting arms below.
There was no more time to lose, and Nuada’s thoughts turned to the tempter, the escaping servant of evil. Nuada searched for the secret exit in the shifting metal plates that formed this room, but it had vanished.
Cutting his way through the dregs of the remaining abominations, Nuada returned to the silent metal door where they had entered the Birthing Chamber. If he was right, there was only one place the Merchant would go.
He followed a return path that led back to the chamber of the golden throne, the chamber of Bres’ folly. As he crept inside, Nuada felt a strange, slightly familiar prickling on the back of his neck. This was different from the creepy, oily feeling of the Merchant’s aura, or the cold nothingness of Bres. Older, and not so unsettling. The realization came to him as he rounded the back of the elaborate gold throne and entered the chamber proper: this aura was one deeply connected to the people of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It had to be the the Four Treasures, stolen by Bres and brought to this place of horror. They were hidden somewhere here.
He found the Merchant, tentacles now fully retracted, standing over Bres on his golden throne. “Merchant!” yelled Nuada.
The servant of The Depths looked up. “Hmm. You found me. Maybe you’re not as stupid as I thought. On the other hand…” With a wave of his hand, the Merchant loosed the magical bond that held Bres. Giggling, the creature stepped back to watch as the two kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann confronted one another.
His crown flashing in the dim light of the hall, Bres stood and turned furiously to Nuada. He shouted imperiously, “Nuada! How dare you invade my kingdom?”
Nuada stared at him. Bres stared back, his eyes angry. “Bres… ” Nuada whispered.
Bres took on a wide grin. “Back to grovel after all this time? After I shamed you before all, and took your sword arm from you?”
A thousand images flashed through Nuada’s head. Pain, blood in the sand, retribution. A hundred years spent in horror, desperation, and toil. One figure stood out from the rest: the young Bres, a fighter nearing his prime, desperately learning all he could. All the young Bres wanted was to defeat his rival, blessed with more natural gifts than he.
Words bubbled up from deep within Nuada. “You’ve been deceived by the Merchant. Where do you think you are?”
“In my throne room in Tír Na nÓg, of course,” growled Bres, folding his arms.
It was hard to speak. “You are in The Depths,” Nuada finally ground out. “You’ve been tricked by the same creature that tricked me.”
The Merchant covered his mouth to hold in his laughter, looking from one to the other.
“Nonsense,” said Bres, visibly irritated. He swept his hand around the stone room shrouded in darkness. “I can see the bright seashore from this window. High overhead, the tree branches form the roof of my grand hall. I smell the aromas from the forest marketplace, and I see you standing on the loam floor with your filthy feet.” Bres reached behind him and drew a long spear from a hidden panel in the golden throne.
Nuada gasped as he saw the spearhead burning, spitting fire. It was the Spear of Victory, one of the Four Treasures. He ducked Bres’ thrust, then countered with a cautious blow of his own. “You’re under enchantment, Bres. Perhaps you always were. I don’t want to kill you until I know the truth!”
Bres thrust again and again with the crackling spear, shouting while the Merchant looked on silently. Then, just as Nuada parried, Bres dropped the spear and collapsed to the ground, untouched by his opponent.
Nuada bent over him and and saw wrinkles spreading rapidly over Bres’ face, his hair growing and whitening, his flesh turning pale, his eyes discoloring. He was aging. “Bres,” Nuada whispered again.
“Nuada,” shuddered Bres, “Where am I? What has happened to me?”
“You’re in The Depths. You’re dying…” Nuada clenched his flesh fist. “And I can’t do anything to save you. That son of an abomination, hiding in the skin of a man. The Merchant tricked you as he did me!”
“Merchant?” said Bres, “I saw no merchant, or any man. The one who guided me was the kindest and most beautiful woman… She told me that I had to save our people, our world. She warned me that you would destroy of our people, and that only with the help of mighty Balor could we be saved. Did I do it? Did I save our people from Nuada’s pride?” He struggled to take a breath, his lungs making an audible rattle.
Nuada sighed. Seconds of silence ticked by like years. “You did, Bres.”
“I’m so glad,” Bres breathed, his frame collapsing further as he relaxed, eyes blinking weakly. “I’m sorry, but I have to go…”
“How touching,” interrupted the Merchant mockingly from the great golden dais. “It’s a shame he had to leave us so soon. You both fed so much power into us, we hate to see you die.”
Nuada picked up the Spear of Victory from Bres’ hand, turning toward the self-satisfied voice. “Where are your horrors now, Merchant? It’s just you and me, this time.”
“Yet you are still outnumbered,” The Merchant’s deep scorn bit the air like a blade. Glancing at the dark corners of the room, Nuada braced for the onslaught. However, the Merchant just turned and ran.
Stopping himself from giving full chase, Nuada curbed his impatience and trailed the Merchant slowly. As the Merchant sped on, nearing the great toothy maw with the stone shelf above, Nuada hefted the burning spear in his hand.
The instant that the Merchant’s slippered foot touched the stone shelf, Nuada hurled the spear. “Merchant!” Nuada shouted.
As the Merchant turned to glance back, the spear struck him. With the sizzle of burning skin, it pierced his body and stuck fast. As it vanished and returned to Nuada’s hand, the Sword Brother charged.
Off balance, the Merchant teetered on the edge of the stone walkway, coughing and trying not to fall into the pit. Shaking, he sprouted tentacles from his legs and gripped the corner of the walkway, righting himself even as blood poured from his chest. The Merchant raised his arms and laughed in triumph.
“Hah! I told you that you were stu…” said the Merchant, just as Nuada slammed into him full force. Bouncing off the wall, they both tumbled into the toothed abyss.
“And I told you that I would kill you.” Nuada said calmly, grasping the flailing tentacles with all his strength. Their suction cups could not grip the long hanging teeth on the way down. As they picked up greater speed, Nuada whispered a death curse into the Merchant’s ear. For the first time in memory, the Merchant was afraid.
Some distance away, Hamadryas straightened suddenly from tending to the injured. Her ancient connection to Nuada snapped like a weary twig in a forest. She never cried, but through the tears that came, she felt Nuada’s last wry smile also on her lips.
No more abominations spawned from the tubes in the Birthing Chamber, and the Delvers gathered to see who could be saved.
With the bleeding stopped, Nimue and John were alive, but still wordless. The Merchant had tortured them endlessly and without mercy.
Miach comforted John, and tried to boost his spirits with a few jokes about pustules, but John was silent. The Valkyrie took care of Nimue as best she could, but the mage simply stared straight ahead of her. She did say “Nuada?” at one point, but nobody had the heart to respond.
Regaining her strength even as Nuada’s presence faded, Hamadryas turned back to the grave injuries of the Cait Sith at her feet. “You fought so bravely,” she told her, though the warrior was bleeding profusely. “At times, you moved so swiftly through their ranks, you were nothing more than flashing teeth, daggers, and claws.”
The Caith Sith coughed. “I gave up my eternal life to kill them, to protect…us all. Please…bury me at my home. Tell Arthur that I…what I have done.”
There was nothing more Hamadryas could do, so she took the Cait Sith’s furry hand. “I will go to the One True City and tell him. I will preserve your body with my magic, and see you buried, brave one.”
Seized with shaking, the Cait Sith passed on. Hamadryas cast the spell that would preserve her body. It was a somber group of Delvers that departed that terrible Birthing Chamber, carrying their dead and injured.
In the throne room, they found Bres’ eyes fluttering open. He took a shaky last breath. “Listen…the treasures are hidden in the golden throne.”
Hamadryas laid her hands on him, but his life force was draining away fast. “And Nuada?”
“Nuada took the servant of The Depths into the abyss with him. Listen.” As the light faded from his eyes, he whispered, “Forgive me.”
“I forgive you,” she answered, but he was already dead.
While Hamadryas found the hidden panels in the golden throne, which was beginning to look tarnished and crumbling, the young Tuathan warrior retrieved the Spear of Victory on the edge of the abyss.
Although this man had maintained a stoic expression all through the battle, something about this place moved him, and his face shifted. He looked into the shuddering maw below for a long time. When he returned with the burning weapon, he spoke quietly to Hamadryas. “This feels right in my hands,” he said. “It feels good.”
Hamadryas stared into those serious eyes. She could sense a shift, a change in the forces of fate. “Yes Lugh, it should,” she told him. “Use it well.”
Never one for many words, Lugh nodded firmly.
Miach walked over to the edge of the pit where Nuada had plunged to his death, and looked down at the gaping maw. In his hand, he held a gift that he had crafted for Nuada at the golden forge. Neither weapon nor armor, but a simple piece of jewelry. He had made the brooch of gold, with three unique golden swords interlocked, and the symbol of the Tuatha Dé Danann in the center.
Miach looked down the hungry mouth, turning the trinket over in his fingers. “Safe journey, my friend. I swear this upon my gift to you: I will give the secret of the silver arm to your people, and never reveal it to any other, even unto another Breaking of the world.” He let the gift slip from his hand. Turning from the edge, he couldn’t help but add, “I hope that creature chokes on you.”
As the companions left The Depths and journeyed back to their homes, they told the tale of Nuada, hero and fool, killer and savior. However as history rolled on, this adventure marked one of the last times that the three Realms would work in fellowship.
The Depths stayed quiet for a long time. Once the adventurers left, the entrance in the green hill disappeared, and no new one could be found for many years. At last, intelligence stirred deep within its bowels, opening a new entrance. Hamadryas was waiting there, ready to start a new story.
The tale of our mightiest champion spread through our people, filling them with hope. No risk was too great for Nuada to take on, though the dangers to our people were many. Some took on the Silverhand tradition, for we shall never forget his power and his bravery.
With the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Lugh continued Nuada’s work and restored his people. It is said that Lugh learned much from Nuada’s mistakes. He rebuilt the Realm and weathered the Second Breaking of the world. But that is another tale.
“Very good,” said the grizzled instructor, rubbing his chin. “That was an excellent recitation. One of the best I’ve heard, to tell the truth.”
“Thank you,” said the young one, wearily. He was anxious, but excited. He had only one Trial remaining.
“Come, then. We must enter the Room of Becoming, where you will make the final sacrifice that marks all Silverhands. It is time for your own story to begin.”
The young one whispered, “My story begins with a hand of silver.”
Thus ends Part 7, and thus concludes the Becoming Story of the Silverhands.
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