Lindisfarne Falls
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Lindisfarne Falls

The death of Sicga

We never should have brought him here. King-killer in life and now - a dreadful thing which rages in its cell. Sicga the monster. Sicga the damned. Dead to the world, yet on he howls. The walls cannot contain these frenzied visions which he casts about us. Tonight, the sky is lit ablaze. Tomorrow - who can tell? Never before have we been called to contain such madness. Never again will I be free of the things which he has shown to me.

Here lies Sicga, though he lives on still. May the saints soon grant us the mercy of his passing.

Brother Thomas of Lindisfarne, 6th April 793


They faced the darkness. Behind them burned the flames of their damnation. Ahead… no way to know.

For four weeks, Lindisfarne had raged with Sicga's impossible illusions. Towering waves had threatened to engulf the island, while whirlpools to rival Charybdis herself turned the calmed North Seas into a fierce maelstorm. The had skies filled with winged beasts and all kinds of maddening, unknowable things. Unholy figures roamed the corridors, their faces a savage mask of unloveliness.

In time, Brother Thomas had grown used to those horrors. Now - no madman's vision could compare to the things which he had seen this night.

At first, he had thought the raiders to be another vision. Some new terror from the depths of Sicga's tormented mind. There had been no fear. No alarms had been sounded. The gates were open - what force of man would brave the sea to breach the mighty walls of Lindisfarne? So many years of peace. Security. The Brethren had grown so painfully complacent that almost they invited in their ruin.

The raiders had walked amongst them. A nightmare - but nothing more than that. On this balmy Summer evening, his brothers had strolled the yards and made their nightly preparations. What curiousity they showed these strangely armoured men was fleeting at most.

The visions were a test of faith, the Bishop told them. A test of our devotion to our guardian path. And so, the monks had prayed and walked and laughed. Devoted, all, until the first had fallen.

Brother Thomas had fled. Not from fear - although his heart felt fit to burst from panic - but down towards his duty.

As Lindisfarne fell, the thirteen had descended.

Those left above would stand and die in service. Rebuild if they could. They knew their duty, just as Brother Thomas knew his own. Here, in the darkness, it waited for him. His blessing and his curse.

Thirteen forbidden treasures - each strangeness a unique and wondrous burden - confined here to the holy vaults of Lindisfarne. Denied by the church, their use was strictly forbidden. And yet - Brother Thomas knew their stories, passed down from Brother Mark, the Fourth who came before him. The knife, the horn, the chalice, and the bones. And then, of course, his charge - the holy book itself which he had sworn to guard.

The ancient stone which paved the way down to the vaults was worn to smoothness. Brother Thomas gripped the rail so tightly that his fingers ached. His sandals slipped. His coarse robe burned his forearm where it struck the wall. His half-cry drowning out the distant screams for just a moment. Onwards, now. Downwards, that those who died would not do so in vain. He closed his eyes and found his way by touch alone. For when he opened them, the things he saw - and how to know now what was real for certain?

The corridors around Brother Thomas boiled with strangeness. Half-formed shadows crawled the stones as Sicga's silent illusions grew ever more disturbed. Perhaps even the madman knew. The balmy air seemed rendered thicker. Blood and fire catching in his aching, panicked lungs.

No time. No time for this! He hurried past the cells. The chains. Between the gilded boxes. Here, amongst the gold and finery, the Brethren hid their finest treasures.

The gospel rested on its plinth, a fine cloth wrapped around its covers. Brother Thomas cast the cloth aside. He pulled the pages loose and tucked them in his satchel. Should he be caught, the jewelled bindings would surely attract the raiders' eyes. Loose papers in a lowly Brother's sacks - if his fate was to be burned, then he could only hope this mighty relic burned beside him. All around him, Brother Thomas could hear the others. The turning of their keys in ancient locks. Their distant footsteps heavy with their purpose.

The exit from the vaults was dusty and unlit. The visions clawed at him as if to hold him back, even as cobwebs clung around his face - a shroud of yellowed foulness on his robes and skin. The door - his fingers fumbled for the key which hung around his neck. And then, a rush of outside air.

No time to count how many others followed - or to mourn for those he left behind, Brother Thomas stepped out into the night.

"Where there's a dragon, there's a hoarde!" Gunnar roared.

"But dragons, Gunnar! They're not - "

"Then what d'you call that, Sten? And dragon or not, I call it an opportunity!" The creature coiled around the clouds, its scales glistening like oiled leather. It turned its head, seemingly blind to the boat below, and headed back towards the island. They turned to follow it. All around them, the ocean whirled and rolled - and yet the sails caught only the gentlest breeze as they closed in on the island and the spinning water parted calmly around the oars.

"An illusion? A sorcerer, perhaps?"

Gunnar gripped oarsman's shoulder. "Dragon or sorcerer - we'll leave with treasure and glory a-plenty. Imagine the stories we'll tell, man!"

The sky around the island was thick with specters. Spidery creatures, all legs and gaping jaws, crawled the decks. When an oarsman raised an arm to cast it from him, his hand passed through as easily as mist.

They moored the boat in grim silence, listening for the cry of alarm. Surely men with powers such as these would know their island was invaded? But no cry came. No cry as Gunnar's men made their way along the beach and up towards the mound.

And there - a monastery, the gates open and unguarded. The walls, though crawling with illusion, held no watchers and no guards. The stone felt cold - and real - where Gunnar touched it. This place, at least, was more than vision.

The men inside, though… At first, Gunnar thought them part of the illusion - or else, if not that, then cursed. Robed in coarse monk's garbs, they moved as if dreaming of some ordinary Summer's evening. Blind, almost, to the chaotic ghosts and gods which curled around them. As strange in their normality as any apparition. So, when Birger reached out and grabbed the nearest Brother, Gunnar half expected that his fingers would pass right through.

"What - " The monk's eyes widened as Birger's grip closed tight around his arm. The words stolen quickly away as the helmsman cut his throat.

And then -

The spell which held these men seemed broken.

The nearest monk screamed. The pail he carried clattered to the cobbles, spilling filth and food scraps. Another moaned, his arms raised up around his face as if to ward - or else to hide away. The dying brother sagged against Birger's chest. His hands reached up as if to hold the bleeding back. A final gurgling moan.

More screaming now. The Brothers darting in amongst the ghosts, the living and illusion turned to madly chaotic whole. The raiders roared, their weapons drawn. The running monks were cut down in their panic. Others stood their ground. Some even gathered what they could to fight. They fell. They died. The raiders cut them down.

The visions gathered close around the carnage. A golden maiden, terrifying in her beauty, walked amongst the dying. Birds with twisted roots in place of wings crawled down the walls. And soft, unrolling things which seemed to join and break and join again fell wildly all around the bloodsoaked walkways. And then, something else unseen - a howling, maddening sound which ached with fear and fury.

Gunnar dreamed of monsters and of glory. Of this secret guardian of the treasure he would claim. Of glorious combat and the songs his men would sing - songs sweeter to him than any gold. He followed the sound into the buildings. Through the cellars. Deeper. Deeper. Down first one staircase and then another. The sound grew closer. Changed. Became a snarl.

And then -

The man crouched low against the floor. His once-fine clothes were loose and tattered, little more than rags. His chest and face were bloodied and encrusted with the remnants of some meal. And still he growled - the same demonic sound which had lured Gunnar here.

Beneath the man lay the body of a monk, its head impossibly turned. The man had bitten at the monk's cheeks and neck, leaving toothmarks in the flesh. Torn into the now-unseeing eyes with fingernails grown long and dark and blackened. The tattered nobleman held his fingers tight around the monk's ruined neck, still shaking. Squeezing. Snapping with straining jaws as if possessed. The sorcerer at last, perhaps. A madman and an illusionist both, his mind come loose to fill the island with such abominations.

A monster of the flesh - and by a heroes' hand, all flesh will bleed. Drawing his sword, Gunnar stepped forwards into battle.

As the first of the Brethren reached the causeway the waters grew calm, and no more were there dragons in the burning skies of Lindisfarne.

Brother Thomas reached the shore as the last traces faded into a Summer mist. The madman was dead - and he found himself wondering what had taken Brother James so long.

Mirrored by the ocean, eleven figures began their crossing. Burdened by a weight far heavier than any gospel or grail, they struck out for the safety of the mainland - and, beyond that, for Ripon.

Too late! Too late… Brother Graham wrapped the lance as best he could, his fingers clumsy against the cloth. When the raiders came, he had been sleeping - what could be more harmless than an evening nap? Even when the screaming woke him, he had not hurried. Another terrible dream, brought on by Sicga's visions. He had been so sure.

It wasn't until he smelled the smoke that he had known.

Perhaps if he could hide it somewhere… Or else -

All at once, the illusions fell away. Their absence startled Brother Graham for a moment more than their presence. It had been so long since Lindisfarne was still. But - if Sicga was gone, then Brother James was here. And if he could find Brother James, perhaps the two of them would stand a chance. Brother Graham felt his panic lift a little. Perhaps all might not be lost.

Gathering up his courage and his duty, Brother Graham made his way towards the madman's cell.

"What's that you have there?"

Brother Graham froze. He clutched the bundled treasure against his body, betraying the hard outline hidden beneath its folds.

"Bring it to me. Maybe then I'll spare you." The raider grinned. Perhaps he even would - the slavers paid a high price for men who wrote. Brother Graham hesitated. Perhaps -

Brother James' body had been kicked against the wall. His pale legs, bloodied, sprawled out of his tangled robe. Beside him, Sicga lay face down. Their arms entwined; the madman and the monk.

Brother Graham turned to run -

- and Gunnar cut him down.

Blood sprayed across the walls, spattering the coarse cream cloth. The bundle fell from numbing fingers as the man crumpled, still reaching as if to claw it back. Where it hit the stones, it clattered as the cloth came loose.

"What's this?"

Gunnar lifted the weapon free from its wrapping. He tested its weight. Admired the workmanship - the ancient styles, but gleaming just as new. Truly a wondrous prize! A weapon of legend - or when he told this tale it would become one. Gunnar wiped it clean against the dead monk's robe and hefted it again. This, he would claim for his own.

Outside, the final dying moans of men were drowned out by the cries of celebration.

"Here, Birger, look what I found!" Gunner hurried back to join his men. To loot and burn and take his pleasure. Tonight, Lindisfarne would burn to her Foundation.

As Gunnar stepped out into the courtyard, a single crimson drop fell from the Bloodied Lance.

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