Part I: Dawn
In the first moment of time
Upon the first inch of matter,
A goddess was birthed,
And the goddess was all
But all would soon betray
With the goddess’s power she formed the dry land, a baron stretch of gas and dust, though she soon made the land green and lush, and the rivers flow. She forged the deserts and hillsides into sights of magnificence. She sculpted men and women, children and creatures of all - from her very golden blood, from her own. Every morning the goddess would Cast her arrow of fire across the land, and light the world from darkness – bringing new life with every shot, giving her the title of the Skyhunter.
But no achievement could ever stand preeminent, could never bring such peace, than the four mountains of power she raised from the dirt, with her very hands. They stood taller than the skies and brighter than the stars,They stood as a beacon of hope and safety, for the people of the land. For each shinning mountain she gave a king, and for each king she gave a kingdom.The first was the great Mountain lands of Karrus kúm, named after its humble king. The second was the ample Mountain fires of Redshanks, named after its giving king.The third was the lavish Mountain winds of Besek, named after its loving King. The forth and tallest of the grand mountain ranges was Fourlord, named after its powerful king.Each colossal mountain city prospered and bloomed fluently, forming into the one stronghold continent of Stae’sion , the greatest land the new man had come to see. Worship flourished for their goddess and spread throughout, happiness was common. Flowers and wild fauna sprang and the sky a crystal blue, illuminating off its sapphire seas
Though all was not peace within the mountain walls of Stae’sion, for some refused the love of the Skyhunter, they thought the only true gods of the kingdoms were the four great mountains of power that sheltered them from the outside unknowns. One black hearted man especially. His name was Gorgonial of the Eye, an arch sorcerer of dark magic that despised the unrealistic love of a hunter in the Sky – and spat upon her worship and shrine. He sat within his Glass tower of solitude praying to the four mountains for an answer, working upon a stone bench of black for months without end. Determined to put his dream of the dead sky lord into play, he began to unstitch creation. Years passed and time fell late, the Skyhunter grew more grand and wealthy with the falling of leaves and the rising of oceans.Then on a winter’s night his prayers finally answered him.
He would banish her; banish the Skyhunter to the bleakest and darkest of places, The Night lands.The night lands were a place of vile and malice desolation, an under earth sanctum of darkness, where the goddess would send only the cruellest and wickedest of peoples – for heinous crimes carried out in blood.But to destroy a god was not an easy task, it was not as simple as the magic Gorgonial has known – it would come at a price, a grave, risky price. An equal exchange it would take, a trade of gargantuan proportions. Ideas flew in the sorcerers head for several gruelling months, pacing the halls of his glass home, cursing and shortly abandoning hope. Until once more his black prayers were answered. The four hearts and roots of the great mountains he worshipped ever so strongly were his only answer, their very souls. But if this was to be carried out, his efforts would be in vain, for the grand structures would be lifeless and nothing but rock and snow, ending his ideals. Though the heart of the sorcerer could not be swayed, not even for his own ambition, so on the darkest night of the coldest day, he carried out what he had crafted.
He stood above his fortress of glass, aloft the tallest tower of the highest roof, on the coldest and darkest of nights - then with staff in hand he span a web of black magic against the beloved goddess, with the intensions of her death in his grasp. The sky moaned and the world shook to its very core - rain of burning oil poured from the sky, torching everything in its unrelenting path, as Gorgonial sung his words of darkness. Madness fell over the city of The Eye, gorgonials homeland, its people fell to ashes as they burnt and scattered like flies, the four mountains themselves began to erupy, crack and combust in waves of heat and smog. it was soon over.
Gorgonial had won, he had finished the task he had set out to do with strange ease. But at the moment of Gorgonials victory, at the moment of the lands dying end; a voice of morbid power boomed down unto the shattering kingdoms, tipping it like a boat and cracking it like thunder – the voice of the Skyhunter.
“Gorgonial of the eye, I gave thee warmth and prosperity, and hope of the new sun – and you throw my love to the earth and cast me to the Nightlands? Your betrayal will not go unpunished, heed my words child – my line will not be broken, not by magic nor darkness, your blood will bend to my will sorcerer, witness my power!” Her voice was gentle as a town mouse, yet vulgar as a angered snake. with her final inches of strength, she shot down hundreds of fire tipped arrows, as the lighting roared slewing into the wicked sorcerer’s chest, shattering his being and boiling his blood. Gorgonial was dead and gone, hismagic would no longer haunt the now dead land.
The land sat nothingness, for an unnumbered scale of time – waiting. Though Gorgonial of the eye was destroyed with his evil, as was the worshipped goddess the Skyhunter. The love of the Skyhunter soon died with the sorcerer, leaving the land in poverty and emptiness – all seemed forever lost as the endless years passed by day, with no change – declaring it ‘the age of the naught’
Though not all was abandoned, not all ties were consigned to oblivion, a new light showed itself through the black night smoke.The four mountains of power, the four grand sculptures that the Skyhunter moulded herself; began to flourish once more, began blooming from the embers of dismay, despite all of Gorgonials power. They arose from the earth larger and grander than ever before; with living, thinking, conspiring hearts of their own, and formed the land back into the crystal haven it once was. So the newly light hearted peoples of the land began prayers once more, prayers to the all giving mountains, worshipping them as the only true gods of Stae’sion. Generations passed, and all memories attached to the once praised Skyhunter were left behind, along with the true origins of the four gods she created. And thus the new age of existence began – the age of Karrus k’um, Redshanks, Besek, and Fourlord. Though little did they know, the land of Stae’sion – was slowly dying.
On the southbound road to Blackale
“Get back in line you filthy dogs, or I’ll skin ya hides raw.”
A thin line of shackled men hobbled down the dirt path as a whip cracked, on course to the prison camp of Blackale. The swollen faced guardsman presented his unearned power like the blinding snow. “Still three miles to Blackale and all you’ve done is shit, piss, and moan to the Mountains for repents. Heave my word fellas - they won’t save you were your goin.” Whip-whip
A mass of rain and snow soiled the men’s torn garments whilst they marched, as mud slid from the rock wall that held them away from the bottomless edge - the ground felt like an ice filled road strewn with oil. It was the last few nights of the blinding autumn, which meant snow, hail, blood, and a poor lack of warm beds – Captain Arnlay of Terrace took lead of the small horde, guiding them through the frosted terrain she gambled on a regular, to a small moss covering of caves that was branded ‘Downward Den’ due to its drop in the earth. The day’s morning frost was still frozen over from the night’s cruel wisp – dampness hung in the air. “We’ll rest here the night, we are beyond the reach of any Red boars or fauns. Mangas start a fire, or we’ll freeze even before we get there – I’ll lock the scum.” Her voice was rough and bitter, resembling her face like a broken mirror.
“Aw’right you shams, follow your superior.” Gesturing them over, she led the prisoners to the small prison like cave within the covering. The inside was wet and cramped, reeking of eroded bone and fish – though better than the frost of a long frigid road. A thud came from the entrance as a small piece of moulding bread was thrown in, echoing down the hole like foot fall as they shovelled in.
“What a morbid bunch of terminals – think you’d at least crack a smile upon deaths row, like you got an option. Redshanks I say they are sickening” Mangas the whip hand guardsman complained as he began to stoke a stingy fuel fire with his rusted knife.
“I wouldn’t suppose you’d like to join their ranks, Mangas? I assume not, so please for god’s sake shut up – your complaints are worse than that of a child.” Arnlay was drained and furious; a batted lioness.
The caverns entrance was shut, and night swallowed.
“Bitch, stinking rat nosed bitch. By Karrus K’um I swear she’ll be dead” “And by who’s hand, I wonder? If you’re considering yours, by the time you pull the knife a guard will have your hand, don’t be a fool, Yarn.” The Eight boxed prisoners sat morbidly in their cell, spitting their black tongues at the name of the guardsmen, around a makeshift stove, toasting the moulded bread. “Pitiful fool she is, ‘givin us a free guide to Blackale, like it’s a bad thing. I tell you the moment we step foot in that campsite im goin’ta break loose and drink me a fooking gallon‘o Ale. Life’s led us ‘ere boys, embrace it.” The man stretched his arms tightly around his neck, relaxing. “Aye, Baarl. Them guardsmen hardly keep an eye on us little sneaks, we’ll slip outa them cages and be off.” The little men and the large cheered the grand idea while others gruelled it with sour contempt – though stayed the silent minority. “We’ll fuck all the ores’ and silver we can pillage, till we got our bellies worth, and then start anew off in in-“ “Do you not understand where we are going, west-man?” A new voice in the dark. Slow. Interrupting “Do you not understand the true Viles of Blackale?” The voice grew louder, and began slip out from the dark, and into the flickering light of the embers. His face was hidden by white cotton bandages – as was his twig like torso, from the first truffle of white hair to the protruding marrow of his collarbone. “Before the age of the naught Blackale stood, shadowing the peace that swam throughout Stae’sion, it stood as a reminder to the villains and rapists of the kingdom that such acts do not go unpunished.” His concealed lips conversed under the fabric of his mask, he continued. “We await not just endless solitude in the stunted oubliettes, but mindless, heartless, Torture – To which we will drown in our own blood.” Half of the modest men quivered upon the warning, the rest sighed. “Its borders are patrolled by not only armoured men, but shade – spirits of the dead, paid in promises of purpose and worth, girting by the hundred. You plan to escape, west-man? Best get thinking.” He slithered back into his shadowy cot and lay to rest upon a patch of moss, staying quite from the rabble he encouraged. “Bah, you say what you want, Cottonface, but I see us drowning in whore and tit, not blood – Best keep ‘ya mouth shut, or your lips are mine.” The foolish jailbirds turn a blind on the shadow man and continued their droll fantasies.
Morning broke, though light did not.
Frost was well known in the early hours, it fell across each man’s nose and brow, tickling like a dead caress. Then frozen caves were left behind, along with the warmth of the fire, and the march continued.
The Blue of Owls of the east called to the men, sung for them as they walked for death – as if they were war heroes of old, captured and sentenced to die by the wicked. A cruel irony.
“Mangas get ere’” Captain Arnlay called to her weapon for higher “we’ve got a problem. Glasco’s order here says five men, not eight – you got the wrong bloody’ numbers again fool and Ittle’ be your head he takes if we can’t fix this, so fix it!” Her orders were clear, though bitter – he dare not disobey. Making a glum nod he halted the men to a standstill, lashing them in line with his leathery weapon – and keeping them there with a threatening gesture. He went for his satchel and pulled a long copper blade, rusted with age. A cold wind abruptly shook the prisoners carefully, with the scent of death upon its touch – Mangas began to pace.
He fixed hid eyes on the snow faced west-man, putting the blade to his dusty throat. With a fluent motion, his vermillion liquid cascaded off in every direction, dotting the snow and the cutters lip - creating silence. The torn man dropped to his knees, then to the bloody state of his chin. Mangas smiled a wicked grin.
The cold air settled down abruptly and calmed the prisoners, bringing them a certain peace. Mangas began pacing again while wiping the blood off his dagger. “Which one, which one…” He sang
Shinggggg. Blood shot from the unknown prisoner’s neck, as he dropped to the snow and rolled down the small slope, leaving a spotted trail as he went. The men stood frozen as ever, blinded with horror.
Suddenly the round man named Baarl took off, leaving the blood and cutter behind, sprinting for dear life. He slid through the small trees and jumped through the mounds of snow, only to be slowed by a wall of brush. He began to panic as Mangas quickly pursued him, cocking a short sword from his shoulder pack. He took a final step to Baarl’s quivering knees, and stuck the blade firmly inside Baarl’s chest, ending him instantly.
With three dead, and the corpses thrown to the wolves – and the men now bound from arm to leg, the sky grew black as they continued. “You’ll have no such mercy where your goin’, boys, I’ll tell ya’ that much. Let the mountains be with you this night, you’ll need all the prayers you can get.” Passion once filled the heart of Arnlay; it still lingered in her red cheeks and lips – though long forgotten within her withered memories.
One mile to Blackale
“You move a muscle and I swear we all die before you can say ‘help me’.” The undecided band hid beneath the cover of a large oaken bridge riddled with snow - hushed by the sound of Arnlay’s warning. A Red Boar of unnerving stature trotted into the clearing, its ivory tusks glittering upon the afternoon sunset – a terrific majesty. Blood stained its brown skin like a child’s drawing, as was its custom upon a fresh kill.
Arnlay and the anxious Mangas nocked two arrows upon their medium bows, pulling the linen string hard towards their jaws. The blood Pig suddenly jerked its head upward, first appreciating the air – then investigating it, like a wealthy women in a rotten pub. It was growing cautious.
“Hold your shot” Arnlay whispered “Your life and job are on the line here I assure you, Mangas of Willoweet.”
“Your concerns are flattery to my black heart, Arnlay of Blackale.” He whispered back “Though these five thugs ought to know it better, for they…”
At that word two of the brainless captives jolted up from underneath the oaken bridge, their legs pinned tight by bounds – hopped away for the sake of life, like chickens from the axe. Arnlay spun her head and watched as the two couriers galloped from her reached, only to be spotted by an even fouler adversary. The Red Boar dug its hooves deep into the earth as it sighted the men, and took off with eyes white with ambition. Out of sight and concern the band took the moment to liberate from the covering and take off for the Night Road.
Screams echoed from the forest of marrow they had left behind with haste, as they entered an open clearing of fields. The high moon grinned its opal face unto the grassy land as night called again, giving it a ghostly presence upon the five remaining victims; Yarn the southerner, Billum of Taaryn, and the one they called Cottonface – along with the two sick and bothered guards. The company slowed there pace to a stop then rested, reaching for their hide canteens drinking thoughtfully – all but the prisoners.
“Arnlay your legs are a grand sight to us all, but they are much longer than the rest; I ask for an hours rest – or at least a flash of your gorgeous body?” Mangas clutched his knees breathing like a lap dog.
“We are no more than a mile from Blackale, whip-hand. We cannot stop till our destination – those who rest get left behind with the boars, understood? And watch your tongue, filth.” Most would think being left to the boars would be a much sweeter death then where they were bound, but these men didn’t know a whole lot after all.
The red flames of Blackale came into sight upon the passing of a hillside, showcasing its sheer horror like a sword in the night air. Waves of pitched screams bellowed from each Dark gated prison pen, as men and women pleaded for the mercy of their mountains. Twelve long and barbed pens circled the area in total, each surrounding a single black fortress within its gloom, rectangular and stoned black. Arnlay smiled a wicked smile and spoke words they would never forget. “Welcome home boys, welcome home.”
A red eyed hawk scoped the prisoners, perched upon a sign that read ‘Blackale – Welcome home’ as they entered their desolation. Two morbid faced guardsmen stood on each side of the gates, with spear in hand - their lips quivering with prayer. They served unforgiving jobs.
The smell was the first thing to notice; it was thick and overwhelming, like a piece of soaking leather in old blood – grimace was the undesired emotion. A stocky bald man greeted the smiling Arnlay with a firm handshake, as she was the first to enter the tall wired gates.
“Cap’n Arnlay, see you made it ere’ in one peace, and lookin’ beautiful as ever – though I can’t say the same for this lot.” He forced a chuckle that resembled his figure well, presenting his middle finger to the prisoners. “Save your flattery for the courtroom, Gael. Take this lot of cocks with you; I’m dying for a piss and some meat.” She was a man in a woman’s body; even as she walked you could see it. “Alright you heard the lady, follow me and stay quiet, I…” He paused inquisitively and turned back to the captain. “I heard you were travellin’ five, not three? What happened to the…”
“I’m quite aware of my own captives, bald man. We ran into a Red Boar on our way south, the dammed thing was huge; some of the idiots tried to run.” She cut him of brutally without a second turn, and continued her stride.
“Well, enough said then, bitch.” He muttered under his hairy lip. “Aw’right follow me scum-dogs, a got a nice cold cell for the lot’a you – And don’t try anything funny, you’ll be shot down before you take your first steps.” They glanced up to the closest corner of the facility and observed a large wooden watch tower, strewn with sharp eyed bow-men, and then walked.
“Your final trials will be held tomorrow in the hall of Bee’s, south of the main building – collection is at dawn, so I suggest you try and get a full night in, Mountains forbid you.” At the end of the short tour, Gael took them into a windowed shack and fitted the men with new garments of white linen, though stained with yellow blood and what looked like tears, they were slightly glad to be out of the soaking rags – then hooved them inside a two by two cage, pitted under the deep soil. Like the caves of downward den, the inside was filled with the pungent odour of death and mossy smells; it crawled from the rusted doors to the ceiling, dripping with disease. Gael gave the men a final snicker then went back to his duties.
Hours passed inside and the men knew one another not an inch closer, a cloud of pleads hung in the damp air. When the big mouthed southerner Yarn opened his gob - and didn’t close it for some time.
“Aw’right laddies, we’re all headed for the same place come dawn; we may as well get acquainted.” His proposal didn’t seem to interest anyone in the slightest; they just sat frozen with the same brick wall expressions. “Okay then, I’ll go first. Names Yarn, me mother was raped as a child and I was conceived forth with. I hail from the burning south, left home at 11 to work in tha’ mines, spend fifteen years there till’ i got charged for assaulting an officer, and ‘ere I am. Pretty grim existence you’d think, but I’ve had my hand full of girls and grog – deaths just another way home I suppose.” He trailed off looking toward the feted ceiling. “Anyway, tubs – what’s your accusation eh? Eaten all tha’ mince in Stae’sion?” He flicked his chin toward the large bodied man in the centre of the room, eying him off.
“I stuck my father – with the hot iron stoker he loved all too much. Left home and hid in the fields of Karrus K’um. Seems the all mighty pointed me out to the guards – they found me two days later, so ere’ I am.” A speck of dust danced down his face as he finished his short conviction, not uttering another word. “Well seems like you tooled around and got ya’self-killed, Tubs. Try not to fuck up anythin’ up tomorrow eh?” The more Yarn spoke the more the others despised him. He was wicked at heart but had a soft face – a well written disguise. “So, Cottonface – judging by the shit around ya’ head, and the width of your arms, I assume you’re from Snowhaven?” The man in wrappings continued to hold his tongue. “That’d make you a Pailord, burnt by the very sun herself. Marksmen of grandeur and so on, bullshit bullshit…” still silence from him, despite the insults. “Worthless northerner, worshipping the pitiful mountain Besek – well you’ll av’ to talk tomorrow, and remove that shit from your head, so I wouldn’t be gettin’ too cocky now friend.”
The nights articulating ended with that. The doomed fell asleep shortly after, the last free rest they thought they could feel – until the Nightlands of the afterlife consumed them.
A small crack in the roof of the feted den allow a column of sunlight to seep through, though it was grey and dismal, like the faces of those it touched. At that moment a deep sound of metal on metal rang through the small town of Blackale, vibrating its very walls – the colossal ringing of a bell - and forcing a cold shiver down the minority’s spine. Following it was the grumbling cough of a nearby guardsman; his face furious with sleep. He stood from his broken stool and walked for the grounded cage. “Collection, boys – and let the mountains have no mercy on your heartless souls.” He pricked the cage with three different keys in three different locks, and then ordered the men to march for the Halls of Bees without a sound.
The walk for their final justice was quick and painless, only passing through one small barbed archway and concrete passage. They were unbound and free to walk for themselves, for they knew escape was imminent. The sight of the Black fort came into view as they exited the small tunnel; it was one colossal mass of black stone and wire, more foreboding than any weapon could manage, its large grey framed doors stood thirty feet from the ground – sighing in pain as they swung open. The inside reflected its outa walls dearly, sad and cold – smelling of frozen steel and dying dreams, the three men escorted by a door guard walked through the main building and down a flight of unforgiving steps – until a large wooden door reading ‘Hall of Bees’ came to pass. The quivering guardsmen made one final sarcastic pun as he shackled the prisoners tight then made an exit for his post.
“See ya’ on the other side, kiddies.” Yarn smiled to the others, and turned the knob to his demise.
Final convictions, in the halls of bees
It was the classic court room scene, a jury of free people, a bitter brown faced judge, and the three sour convicts – the only difference was no one was defending them. The air was thick and full of tension, as were the large bailiffs on either side of their leader, Honourable Judge Glasco – His dark skin camouflaged into the windowless chamber, showing only his sky blue eyes and teeth in the candle light, which he would opened wide to sentence. Captain Arnlay and the whip hand Mangas stood by the edge of the judge’s podium, looking smug as ever in their new golden robes. The three men walked to the front of the hall and took their seats upon a bench of stone, cold as their skin felt.
Then Glasco began,
“Yarn of the south, thirty four years of age, convicted of assaulting his iron mine official, please step forward.” His voice was pitch and breaking, like a fourteen year old boy. Yarn stood from the stone bench the convicts shared, wearing a cocky smirk – and then made for the front line. Once again Judge Glasco shared the man’s conviction, not looking up from his secure notes. “Yarn of the south, thirty four years of age, convicted of assaulting his iron mine official – it appears you are in hot water here, friend – Attacking an official is a serious crime against the southern lands, what do you have to say in your defence?” Yarn swallowed his pride and spoke.
“Your honour, I would like to plead for a self-defence charge, with your permission?” Glasco nodded his brow in acceptance. “Well you see my honour; within my fifteen years of service to the Iron mines of Grov’lore I was given one pick axe, and three rusted chisels, my official had informed me that upon every New Year the workmen received new tools, in addition to our payment. Those these promise were never fulfilled by the official, or his henchmen – the same treatment continued for a long decade. I decided to take things into my own hands and speak with the wise official himself. Though upon my arrival at his common room within the mines, the man was wasted upon five bottles of Scorched Ale, and refused my claims – and as a man of the south I didn’t give up my ambitions so easily, which led to the man’s anger. So as you can see my honour, I had to drive the bottle upon his skull, or it would be my life upon the medic’s bed, a clear case of self-defence.” With that said he made a short bow, and returned to his seat. The judges and jury chattered away for what seemed like a good hour, until Glasco opened his mouth once more.
“Yarn of the south, for the crime of assault upon an official, and the needless lies of ‘self-defence’ with not a piece of evidence to secure your case, I hereby sentence you to fifteen years of hard torture in light removed solitude. Take him away, Sarn.” Time seemed to stand still as the jury applauded the judge’s final verdict. Yarns face turned a bitter white as the tall man known as Sarn took him by a twisted arm and dragged him to a small corner room. He kicked and yelped in his defence one last time. “Glasco you dog im innocent you ‘ere me, the man had it coming – he blistered our hand reds with labour to get his…” and he was gone, ripped from his freedom to the small confines of the rest of his young life. The sun would become alien to him.
The Court moved on, as did time and lowering candle light.
“Billum of Taaryn, an innocent nineteen years of age, convicted of murdering his own blood father with the stoker of his house – please, step forward.” Glasco began to sound older and irritant, more so than a shaken hornet. Billum made his way from the cold seat to the front line slowly, showing no sign of optimism in his trial, unlike his predecessor. “Billum of Taaryn, nineteen years of youth and fat, convicted of murdering his life bringer in cold blood. What pitiful excuse do you have for your honour this evening?” Hate began to stir in Billum’s heart, though he kept his mouth tight.
“Your honour, I have nothing to defend my conviction against the crime I have committed against the northern land, only the warmth from the gods and my sweet mother can save me forthwith. Please, do what must be done” He began to quiver with a cold sweat, as a single tear fell from his lip. He knew hope was an old friend, and it wouldn’t come this time.
“Well then Sir Billum, Murder in itself is a ten year sentence, though with no evidence supporting your defence that’s an added time of fifteen years. Your young life will be cut rather drastically?” “I’m aware, your honour – Let Karrus K’um be in your heart, let mercy reach you.”
“I’m afraid Sir Billum of Taaryn, but I have little choice in the matter, justice is justice – and it must be served. I, judge Glasco of Blackale, hereby sentence you too fifteen years of hard torture within the free range arenas of Blackale’s camp, where the sun shall be your only comfort – Let the gods have mercy on your soul. Sarn, take him.” And once more the jury thundered an applause that shook the earth itself, and the young Billum was taken into his decade of caging by the hands of muscular Sarn.
A short recess was had, and then the trials continued.
A cool air snuck its way into the tight doors of the Hall of Bees, sticking to the already icy stoned floor – breath became thick. “Now that my gut is full of pork and cheese im feeling much more generous, you are lucky, Cottonfaced lad.” His half smiled glistened of Ale and meat, an undeserved luxury he knew all too well. “It appears we have nothing on your background nor age in our files, though Captain Arnlay and her lapdog Mangas claim they picked you up upon their leaving of Taaryn, on charges that were not told by the men of your homeland Snowhaven? Please friend, step forth and remove your head wraps, then we shall begin your end.” The gluttonous bastard was drunk beyond his own mind, sitting upon his black stoned throne like a god king. The one known as Cottonface stood up from his stone bench and dragged his feet to the nearest guard, gesturing his shackled hands to be freed. With his hands loose he slowly fashioned a fist then spread it, feeling the blood rush back to them.
“Well for the sake of time hurry up, I have a freshly bled girl awaiting me and there is not sun in here, you have nothing to fear Norseman.” inpatient’s grew in Glasco as the accused gripped the back of his scalp and slowly stared unwrapping, like a newly healed wound. As the bandage slowly slid off his head a thick head of white hair and brown eyes appeared. His nose was long and sharp, his lips and cheekbones curved and perfect – and his face thin and pale, like that of a ghosts. A layer of slime like moisture covered his ashen features with sly density, as did his sickly thin frame.
“By the god’s friend, you were born from the snow weren’t you? A harsh reality was hidden by that disguise indeed.” Cottonface took a deep well earned breath, like he hadn’t in a decade of solitude. “Now, pailord – present your name, age, and conviction, before I kill you myself.”
“My name is Farl of Snowhaven, your honour - I was born from my mother’s womb twenty five years to the day, before her end - I was convicted by the people of my homeland, for the charges of heresy.” His voice was quick, sending chills down the spines of the female attendants; it was as soft as a town mouse, yet vulgar as the snake. An inhuman gasp fell over the clique of Blackale men, making them silent as death to the shock of his accusations.
“By the gods - we have a heretic in our midst, a wicked creature of religious defilence!” This time the crowd laughed in hysterics at the judge’s sarcastic notion. “Let me guess, pale one – you burnt a Besek flag? Or refused to pray to mountain lords before a meal, so they sent you to me, eh? Well regardless, the crimes of a Heretic are punishable by death, so you have little choice in the matter.” His voice grew more agonising by the second. “Now get on with it Sarn, im sick of seeing this ghosts head still on his shoulders.” With Glasco’s final word and gulp of Ale down, Sarn grasped the prisoner by his torso, holding him tight against his chest, with a serrated knife to his neck.
he was to be executed then and there.
A new beginning
Before the blades begin to slide, a traumatic explosion blew and shattered the entrance to pieces, crushing the audience and candle light in its path. Sarn flew back and the lost farl and the knife, sending them both sliding across the hard floor – the judge hid his face with the padding of his cloak sleeve, though it was blown quickly away by the impact, bloodying his face. Arnlay and Mangas took quick action and fled for the safety of a hidden bunker, to only be stunted by its locked doors. The forces of Sarn’s throw send farl rolling under the stone bench he sat upon earlier, blocking him from the flying debris – but knocking him cold in the process. Blood wept from his nose as the dust began to settle, a single light shone through the large hole with composure, though not for the dead.
Three silhouettes of blue slowly began emerged from the squinting light and dirt, slightly blocking the harsh rays of sunlight - Suddenly a barrage of silver daggers cut through the dust and into the hearts of the remaining witnesses, throwing them back to the rubble.
The three figures walked in and showed themselves to the new scenery. They were all equally wrapped in blue short cut robes, shimmering with golden silk and mail – small helmets of silver sat firmly on their heads, pointed to the tip – with boots and gloves of steel.
“Fools, you might have killed him!” A clean gorgeous voice sang through the dust, displaying himself proudly.
The first was an alpine man with a strong jaw and beard, his eyes blue as the clothes he dawned – the second was a small female, her long blonde hair was wrapped tightly around the front of her neck, shimmering off her perfect cheekbones and yellow eyes in a tight braid, her large breasts loosely hung in her robe. The last of the group was a muscular dark skinned man, his eyebrows thick and cross same as his concrete moustache, and tall as the thickest of trees. Each of them had equipped a long belt of daggers slung across their shoulders, shimmering with craftsmanship in the morning sun.
The tall bearded man walked in cautiously, with three daggers held tightly between his fingers – he stepped over rubble and rock to an open clearing, and then called in his followers with a short odd whistle. The other two blue strangers followed suit and strode in, unsheathing three daggers each, standing in defensive modes, then spoke. “Thalraan brother, make haste – the northern cavalry will have heard of our intrusions on first strike, bastards are faster than Sunder - find the boy and let’s go, I don’t trust this haggard place.” Said the dark skinned man raising his sword.
“Aye Countess, the blood curdles in this hell hole – Lavree, you take the left, Countess the right – find him.” Thalraan’s orders were taken out immediately, not a flinch of hesitation. The blonde girl Lavree watched the cracked podium as she wandered it, kicking small rocks out of her stride – she leant to the dust and began to dig with a single dagger, spitting out chewing root as she went. Countess pushed through the dead Blackalemen that lay in the broken benches, smelling for life among the mess. “Remember, the find we seek is as pale as the snowflake and thin as the stalk, he is not easily missed.” Nods all around
Thalraan leant to his knees and picked up a long strip of cotton wrap, covered in odd moisture he couldn’t recognize. Tipping his finger with it he went for his tongue – spitting the foul ooze out instantly. “Gods be good, what in the world is this…” He stuffed the wrap within his robe and continued searching.
Shadows quickly fell over the land, and Blackale appeared darker than ever - though orange light began to appear on the horizon. “Haste my friends, the north cavalry approaches on stead, we have been tipped off – find him now!” They scrambled through dirt and dust panicked to find their prize – like ants to a sweet, seeking for aliment. Suddenly Lavree spotted the skeletal body of Farl, lying limply under the stone bench he rolled under, and took him by the scruff dragging him fee.
“Thal, he’s alive!” she screamed to her companions, Thalraan and Countess slid around spotting him in her hands gasping a relief, the search had ended as they bolted over – Thalraan lifted him over his shoulder and spun back to the door, sprinting for purpose.
A flash of lighting lit up the world
Voices began to echo in the dark, as the light of the cavalry grew closer. They ran through the dark of the camp, cutting through the broken fences they had shattered earlier - bodies of the dead guard’s scatted the small area and fire burnt ghost grass like tiny birthday candles. They quickly slid behind a covering of tall trees, placing the sleeping farl on a patch of brown moss – as the cavalry approached quietly.
A crash of thunder shook the heated ground
At least fifty men adorn black horses galloped into the scene, dressed in thick leather suits of grey with torches in hand. The first man to approach and dismount was a hugely built Norseman, his face withered by war and hair – “fan out, search the area, knights - those dog riders will be ere’ somewhere.” He bellowed and the men behind him galloped off in every direction of the camp. One horseman stayed behind and questioned his superior cautiously.
“Sir Crag, if I may ask - not even Dog Riders can belittle an entire encampment, especially one as severe as Blackale, how are you certain they are the cause of this?” The one called Crag turned to the horsemen with nostrils flared.
“Because, squire Merrill – I could smell their pungent wet hides from a mile off. Question my authority further and you’ll end up like these men, understood?” He gestured towards a Blackale guard cut in several places, and smiled.
“Yes sir Crag… my apologies sir Crag”. With that he slapped his horse and joined his brethren.
“Quick, make for the wolves – Countess take the boy…” Thalraan whispered loudly to his team and they sprinted off in the opposite direction of the flames and strange horsemen.
A heavy cloud of rain started to fall
Twenty minutes of subtle running led them to an open field, the very same field the prisoners first laid eyes on Blackale. Though this time upon the grassy field waited not screams and prayer, but a different sort of morbid comfort.
Three gargantuan wolves of the spleen woodland – Armoured and hidden, they stood seven feet tall and twenty feet across, covered from neck to tail in razor point spines, bristling calmly in the night air. The beasts sat up from seclusion and stared down their snouts to the three jogging incomers on their trail – when suddenly they heard: “Shrew – Tolle – Sunder, mush for Terrace!” Lavree’s voice flew out toward them and they sprinted over with an instant fearsome speed - the three Blue dressed strangers leaped onto the saddled backs of the razor wolves, with Countess clutching farl in his arms, and disappeared - unto the storm
They rode hard and long into the night, deeper and denser toward the south east lake town of Terrace – quivering in the ice of the blistering rain. The sounds of the horsemen cavalry soon died away with the rotting smell of the Blackale camp, a very shallow amount of relief fell over the three Riders.
With the increasing rain and tiering wolves sprinting they knew rest would be the only answer until dawn, and Farl was looking ever worse, as blood still wept from his large head gash. They came to a slow pace and entered a dense clearing of trees, clutching hard to the reins of their wolf mounts, cautiously watching for the enemy.
Eventually a small fire had been lit and canvas sheet dawned as shelter, a very minimal amount of shelter though enough to keep the trio from the rain – though the three wolves didn’t get such luxuries. They sat by one another and conversed for an hour, plotting the next move and strategic possibility, to ensure the safest route for Terrace. The only girl in the group, Lavree, lay flat on her back rubbing her cheeks hard, cooling them from the heat of the burning logs, than sat up and sighed.
“I’m going for a walk. As entertaining as you two are, I need some proper air.” The others (especially the shaggy Thalraan) began to protest, though evidently let her by without another word. She took a long leather cloak and wrapped it tightly around her chest, banishing the rain.
The ground had become almost marsh like, it was soaked through to a paste of mud and sticks – making it especially hard to walk, though Lavree didn’t mind, anything was better than hearing the two men jabber on about past wars and belt sizes again. She leaped over a small bubbling stream almost falling to her knees, then pushed her way through a drench star shaped ivy wall, only to find her self-trapped by the side of the wall and a large pool of oozing mud.
“Great. Just great.” She threw off her leather hood and sat down onto her calves, crossing her arms sourly. The air was cold yet refreshing, like a glass of clean water – though the overhanging trees somewhat sheltered her from the rain. She then reached deep into her side pocket and pulled out a leather pouch of fine ruby-weed, and a thin ivory pipe, both incrusting with the symbol of the mighty mountain Redshanks, pulling of a small tinder box she began toking from its worn tip. A river of red smoke slowly exhaled from her purple lips, dancing in the rain and wind.
She began to relax once more, as she took her last gasp of red smoke, than concealed her pipe once again. The rain had lightened slightly and made her path back for her comrades much simpler, though she pondered the ark terrain for a moment longer, it was a simplistic beauty she had always enjoyed. Pushing back through the wall of ivy and leaping over the bubbling brook she began to make her way back to the campsite, only to be stopped by a gut throating sight that almost made her lose her balance.
Metres down the river, idly poking at the rising stream with crooked fingers, were two red eyed fauns. Their huge circular horns shimmered is the newly appeared moon, their large woollen hide legs were like that of a goat, an long mangy beards hung from the wrinkled faces, laced with bones and rotten leafs. Fauns were known for their intoxicating lust for young women; they would steal them away at night and bring back to their mud built shacks, to be prisoners of their erotic torture, and never seen again. Creatures of vile an viciousness
Lavree quickly held her breath and gasped her mouth, while slowly stepping into a shadowed clearing, avoiding the dead twigs and leaves. The creatures had long wooden spears in hand, with a razor rock tip and decorated with a human skull on each, sending a chill down her thighs.
They began conversing with one another in there own twisted language, their voices like the sound of cracking knuckles and dying hens. In the common tongue of Stae’sion it would read:
“Fish and broth and frogs and slugs, i needs some meats in my gut!”
“Keep searching maggot or you’ll be on the menu next time! fish'is all we got”
Their eerie tongueless voices shook Lavree to her core, which was when she decided she needed to get out of there, or be discovered and stolen from her friends – or worse. She took it step by step staying low and quiet as possible, breathing with the breaths of a mouse.
The fauns stepped over the water and through a low set of bushes not ten feet from where Lavree was crouched, steadying the stride through the mud with their gargantuan spears. One seemed to be older or at least greyer then the other, one of his horns was snapped off at the tip and it was missing several fingers – it tilted its head up and examined the air, then spoke again in its twisted tongue:
“Eh, maggot – I smell milk and blood, there’s a women nearby, tilt your snout.”
“I smell’it too, Mooch - fan out… we’ll find a trail.”
Of course Lavree had no idea of what they were discussing; she thought her hiding place was flawless an undisclosed, for the time. She stayed under her shadowed bush curled tightly around her leather cloak, still breathing as light as a feather – though the heavy foot fall of her hunters was getting closer and clearer.
Suddenly a flash of fire came out from the darkness and into the muddy clearing, eliminating the area in orange light; the Fauns leapt backward and dawned their spears ready. Following the fire, the two blue robed companions wielding their short sapphire swords appeared from the darkness, screaming battle cries of their homeland.
“Leave this place, beasts! Your blood soaked eyes are banished from the eastern lands – leave now, or die” Thalraan yelled in a voice Lavree had never heard, his hatred for the morbid creatures went much further back then this night.
Cursing in their foul voices the Fauns slowly began pacing backward, hissing and threatening with their skull spears further, then quickly turned and ran into the depths of the Marrow woodland, back to their huts.
“Lav, Lav are you okay, where are you?!” Countess boomed his voice in search of his dear friend.
“Uh, im right here fellas… seems I got a bit lost” She stood up from her shrub feeling rather embarrassed, having to be saved by her friends and all, and walked over to them avoiding the now burning brush.
“Lavree you could have been killed, don’t you dare wander from the group again, not until we’ve reached the valleys of the Opal Lake – and that is an order, Understood?” Anger filled Thalraan’s voice; He loved the young girl dearly, like a sweet daughter he never had the chance to conceive, and to have almost lost her was mind kicking. She looked into Thalraan’s eyes hatefully, and stormed off, knocking him by the shoulders – being babied was her worst aggression.
“little twat” Countess grumbled “c’mon Thal – let’s get the hell outa here, I need some damn sleep.”They left the burning area and returned to their small campsite, to find their unconscious friend Farl still cold as a rock – and Lavree as angry as a hornet.
Two morbid black days pass/ a new campsite built
The remains of a blue owl carcass lay fresh on the edge a small ford ridge, untouched and unspoiled, which Tolle the spine wolf ate thoughtfully in the hazy rain weather – smashing the weak bones between her ivory teeth. Not far the dead smells sat Lavree, her crystal blonde hair shimmering off the midnight moon as she sparked a small wood fire. The logs quickly lit up and illuminated the boggy campsite.
A forest of thin sickly looking trees surrounded her, rising high above the rocky floor they sprat from like spears of black. Small rock frogs sang songs in the distance echoing for miles into the endless night, making the nearby insects anxious with fear. Countess appeared from the small tepee they set up prior and sat by his companion, shivering by the warmth of the fire.
“I hate the east, always bloody miserable – no women, no decent drinking water, surprise anyone can live here at all, let alone build things. Where’s Thal, Lav?” as he finished asking, Thalraan emerged from the dark upon his armoured canine Sunder, carrying a large male elk in its massive jaws - dripping with blood.
“Bout’ time Thal, Tolle already went off for food – she couldn’t wait any longer, she wouldn’t stop whining to us” Lavree stood up to greet them, referring to her sleek wolf Tolle. “Though I assume she’ll be back soon now…”
“Well then more meat for the rest of us.” Thalraan dismounted his ride quickly and took a log by the fire, sitting upon its hard surface with a sigh. “Count, where’s Shrew? I thought I saw her running off to the east – but I guess my mind was seeing a lot of things – could of sworn I saw an old women out there, lucky Sunder was keeping his eyes wide.” He gestured to the limp deer resting in his pets’ mouth.
“Oh god’s only know, idiot has been running off lately – thinks every shadow is a rabbit, ugh.” Dropping the large elk to his rider’s feet, the wolf Sunder suddenly ran off the left and tackled something large to the earth, cracking trees and shrub in his way. The group rose to their feet and each drew a single weapon ready for whatever creature be out for them, before realizing the monstrous prey was the young wolf Tolle, grumbling to her paws as she nudged Sunder away, furious with his puppy like antics.
Lavree called Tolle over with a strange whistle and took her by the snout, caressing her gently and pulling feathers from her spiked snout. “Looks like this one’s been getting into the owls again, hope this one was actually alive, silly creature” She continued to talk in her ‘good little hunter’ voice as Thalraan started to hack away at the elk, preparing it for a brown stew.
Soon the grey moon was at its peak and shone down unto the trio like a beacon, giving away their not so secret position to the fauna, as the smell of roasting Venison filled the air.
“Come’n get it…” Countess shouted a bit too loudly, waking two of the wolves from deep sleep. He served each of his companions a bowl of the steaming soup and a piece of crusty bread, then dug in gladly - gulping it down like they hadn’t eaten in days. When they had finished their well-deserved pickings; they began to discussed the matter of the Pale man they convoyed from shackles.
“I checked him through four times, Thal – im telling you it’s just a minor head smack, he’ll be waken by morning and wondering where the hell he is.” Lavree chuckled at his symptoms, licking the remains off her wooden bowl.
“I certainly hope he doesn’t try and kill us, I know I would.” She said.
“Aw’right then, we just have to make sure we watch him – we cannot afford anything catastrophic happening to him or Reaf will gut us, and make sure you wash him down before morning, he covered in some kind of moisture – vile stuff, found it all over the Blackale courtroom.”
“Don’t you worry tall man, I know how to keep a person alive that has been ripped in two, im sure I can handle this…” Lavree boasted her skills in medicine constantly, as she was gifted in the subject better than others could learn in a life time. She lifted herself from the warm log and made for the Tepee, patting the remaining bread crumbs from her blue robes.
“That girl has got her head up her ass, I swear it Thal – You need to be firmer with her. No good can come of being know-it-all, especially after the faun ‘incident’” Countess was the oldest of the three and knew a big talker when he heard one; his concerns were not in vain, but rude none the less.
“I know, old friend, she’s rather a handful – but be that as it may she still is the bet medic the Nine have yet to see, and one of the best riders, too. I wouldn’t be judging her too closely yet.” Thalraan picked up his unfinished bowl and sat it down by his snoozing wolf, knowing he’d be quite grateful by the morning. “Besides, I think she’s got something special, I don’t know what yet – but I guess time will unveil it, as it does all things.” Countess snorted at his remark and looked for the stars among the scattering of trees, thinking of times past. Thalraan followed Lavree’s step for the tepee and fell for his bed of hide, wrapping his cloak tightly around him – then counted his sheep.
The Sun appears
A blood burning scream awoke the three from their sleep, to a bright sun capped morning. Through the screams birds sang and small streams flowed over, gushing with the new level of rain water. Only small bars of the sunlight shone through the gaps of the thick set of trees, casting down on to the camp sight like fingers of light.
Countess was the first up to investigate; he had fallen asleep outside and had been awake for hours, preparing for the day ahead. Running to the tepee he burst in to find the shattering screams belonged to Farl, the pale young man. He lay on the floor of the tent convulsing horridly, ripping at his face and torso in pain, as if thousands of insects had taken home in his skin. He had knocked over the bowl of drinking water Countess had fetched, and smashed the only clay pipe he had owned, before Thalraan was up and on top of him pressing down hard on his arms. Lavree commenting saying, “at least he’s awake.”
“Lav shut up and get his legs!” He shouted to his team to assist, as the distressed Farl began to sob in agony, his face now red. “What in Besek’s name is wrong with him, is he sick?! Countess get him some water now!”
“He’s already spilt it all! The fool knocked everything!” Countess was poring over with stress, he stomped around the tepee feeling singularly responsible, thinking for answers - when “Wait… quick Thal get me that bandage you said you found in Blackale, I have an idea!” With that Thal ran for his robe which hung by his bed and dug through them statically, throwing small bits and bots out in his effort. He finally managed to pull the long oozing bandage out and threw it for Countess, who caught it reluctantly. Dropping by farls side onto his knees, he began wrapping the sticky bandage tightly around the boy’s neck and face while shouting, “Get a blanket and cover his Body” Until he was completely covered in darkness and hide.
Farl lay dead still, only the rapid rising and fall of his chest showed any sign of life. The others lay back and took breaths of relief; he was alive – though they were not sure why he was expiring in the first place.
“Thanks the gods for that, I could see Reaf’s face of fury from here…” Lavree took two looked of ‘shut up’ from her friends, and then began tending to her strange new patient. His lips slowly quivered under his cotton wraps, as did the fluttering of his long eye lashes.
"He is a pailord..." whispered Thalraan, the other looking at him odly. "A man of the Snowhaven city, the land where the sun does not touch. his skin is not use to such harsh light, he must be concealed, in order for him to survive."
– Lavree took her ear and place it on his sinking chest, listening carefully. “His heart rate is strange, almost abnormal – but healthy nonetheless, I think he’s gonna be okay.” She took her head off, and “Thal whatever is on those bandages saved his life, you ought to-“
Farl’s hand suddenly shot up without warning, gripping tightly around Lavree’s neck, the other did the same but slid up her chest pulling a silver dragger from the belt she kept equipped, and pushed it lightly against the skin of her breast. The men were thrown back with shock as the mummified man suddenly became alive and vicious, screaming “Where am I, Who are you?” threatening their helpless ally.
“Farl, calm yourself! We are your friends not enemies, we took you from the dreads of Blackale and to safety – unclench your blade and we shall discus the matters at hand, please friend.” Thalraan pleaded to the thin man, a drop of sweat falling off his chin almost instantly.
He slightly loosened his grip from Lavree’s chest, though still held a steady dagger to her torso. Countess began to unsheathe his short sapphire sword, warning the blade away from Lavree.
“W-who are you people?! Where in goddess’s name am I?” Farl began to quiver, asking the same questions repetitively, though who could blame him – he awoke in unrelenting pain, in a tepee of canvas, sympathy was not on his mind.
“You are in the outskirts of the forest of marrow, just off the east of Blackale, fifty miles off to be exact. And we, young sir, are your saviours.” Thalraan continued to introduce the trio, “This is Countess of Ca’rel, the oldest and wisest of our group – this is Lavree of Willoweet, the greatest healist and beauty in all of Stae’sion – And I, Farl, am Thalraan of Ru’en, second place leader to the Nine and Dagger chief of the east – I was sent by your father and my brother, Reaf – the captain and lord of the Riders of Ru’en.”
The laketown of Terrace
Mal of terrace stared down the shaft of an iron arrow, held by a hairless drunk. The attacker had no bow (or shoes for that matter) just the single arrow cocked in his gritty hands - The regular crowd of the Opal lake Tavern stood stiff, as their favourite bartender was held up with the mediocre weapon, stunned with tipsy helplessness.
“C’mon now fella, drop the arrow and I’ll set ya an ale – you got no use to your mother dead, and no use to the rest of us” Mal kept his cool, silencing his attacker with calming words as he continued soaking the bar in polish.
“D-dark sails and Blackwater, dark sails and black water, Mally…” the crazed man was in hysterics – almost laughter. Purple veins burst from his template as he shook, spitting specs of wet scum from his yellow teeth. The man was Tonkess (or tonk), the local fool – and for good reason too. Every morning he would wake and began his relentless ravings, some days he would speak of the impending dooms day, the day the great mountains would burst with fire and destroy the land to dismay – or some days it would be of the crooked pirates, coming to pillage and rape the town of Terrace dry - like today.
“Y-you ain’t believing me Mally, you ain’t gonna live otherwise… you believe me - Mally” He began laughing horridly; the utter sound would force a cringing. He lifted the rusted arrow slightly higher so it was kissing the dark side of Mal’s neck.
“Yes Tonk, of course I believe you – we all do, but slewing me is going to land you in prison friend, and mother wouldn’t be happy, now would she?” Mal had a soft spot for the blundering oaf, a very small fraction of hope – but the sheer mention of his mother send a toxic chill through Tonk’s body.
“Mother… M-mother is, here.”
No, Tonk – but she will be soon.” Said Mal
“Gods forsake me if mother sees… mustn’t disobey… M-mother…” The arrow dropped from his hand and onto the cobble stone floor, freeing Mal and relaxing the tavern folk – though with his freedom in play, he reached over the bar and took Tonk by the throat, dragging him across the wet polish and into his grip. Tonkess squawked for help as Mal threatened to beat his stomach hard, warning with a closed fist, tears swelling his eyes. After his near punishment, Mal threw him back from the bar and yelled:
“You stay well outa my Tavern you ere’, your bullshits gone too long unpunished, Tonkess – Valery, get the guard!” He pointed for his handmaiden to fetch the nearest perimeter guard, and bent his finger, puffing outward. Mal’s temper was a two sided die. Tonk sprinted out yelping like a fox and ran for his home tripping in his attempt, only to be pursued by the dark haired Valery.
After the event, Mal took a stool and poured himself an ale, mopping his brow and ear with the dry bar clothe. “Ahh my loving god’s just gim’me one sane night, that’s all we here ask for – or at least some pretty women to balance it out.” He took a long swig of his drink and set it down.
A short bearded dwarf heard Mal’s witty remark and laughed to himself, trying to hide it under his finished glass. “Do my prayers please you, sir dwarf? Would you like another?” Being already frustrated by the previous event – a laughing dwarf wasn’t exactly a good think, whether it in his favour or not.
“OH NO MY FRIEND” He slammed his glass on the lacquered bench. “My prayers are that as significant as yours, or as any ones for that matter. I simply wish to make light of your lack of pretty women, as yourself mentioned.” The dwarf was loud and obscure, grinning cheerfully through his wine soaked teeth. A cap of leather sat loosely on his fuzzy head, allowing branches of his wild hair to shoot out – his braided beard was short and stubby, quite like his bulbous figure.
Mal loosened up. “Ahh the women here are an acentric bunch, mate – one moment you’ll spot a ten outa ten, the next you’ll see a lakeside dog!” They both laughed through their teeth. The dwarf stood over his chair an joined his new ally by the bar. “Can I get ya new drink dwarf, lookin’ mighty thirsty and I’d say we ava’ long night ahead of us if we be talking about women?” he gestured to the flagons of Ale, scorched and wine.
“Aye mate, women it tis! And scorched would be excellent, oh - the name’s Bolborus Bluebeard, if ya’ wanting to know – though its accustom to ask such things in my stretch ov’ this shitter we call Stae’sion!” Bolborus introduced himself with a moist handshake and took his seat.
“Bluebeard eh? That’d mean you’re a seafarer if memory serves – ‘A grand captain of the crooked seas, coming within mere inches of the foul you protect us from day to day! Right?” Mal said this with a bold stance of sarcastic power, forcing them both to laugh into their drinks.
Bolborus tilted his head several times in agreement, his mouth too full of scorched ale to comment, when suddenly a third man slid over and joined suit. His face was unfamiliar
“Aha, too finally meet a respected sea captain in these parts is certainly a miracle, names Saxon – just sailed in from the northern docklands, any luck on the tides last cast eh?” His face was weathered heavily by the ocean salt, and by memories that haunted his frail mind. He was dressed in a single robe of grey wool, buttoned and cloaked tight around him.
“Ah well Sax, don’t mind if I call you sax, do you friend?” He shook his head and gestured ‘go ahead’. “Well the eastern shores are bloody mindless I’ll tell you, though the same can be said for the muggy south – but the real hole in my side was the Pass of Teeth when getting through there wasn’t easy, watch with me own eyes as it tore apart a courier vessel, nasty stuff there – ship only just survived!” Bolborus was growing drunker by every overly sang statement he slurred, Mal just sat and laughed.
“Well blind-me-eyes friend, you ought to av’ been sailing or forty years to get through the Teeth clean, what kind of ship you sailing?” Saxon said, finishing in a whisper.
“The four-sailed red wood, out back on the docks – swims like a fish she does!”
“I saw that glory on the way in, mind if we ava’ look, friend?” The idea of Bolborus getting to show off his work of seafaring mastery excited him wildly, far beyond any pint or young women could. He nodded instantly and they slugged off their bar stools and slowly paced for the back door, discussing ideas of rowing mechanics – though mal was numb to them as he served a grateful customer.
The black night sky pissed with even blacker rain, cutting through the air like knives – it shook the wooden jetty fiercely, shaking the two withering sea captains like scarecrows, though they muscled through it. Taking each slow step at a time they reached the docking pole of Bolborus’s ship, it sat deep in the murk of the opal lake and higher than the tree’s, and red as a flaming torch. Saxon looked up at the sight squinting his eyes to evade the rain, but failed in his attempts to see anything but the grand silhouette, then smiled like a wicked pup.
Turning to Bolborus he began to unbutton his woollen robes quickly, Bol looked at him raising an with a raised eye brow while holding down his cap – Then Saxon stopped undressing and pulled two large curved swords from his concealed torso, lunging them at his new friend. Bolborus (being stunned to the attack) fell backwards to his ass and almost off the edge and into the deep, only rescued by his fat chest. Raising the two long swords again, Saxon forced them down with rage, missing his target by a hair length, giving Bolborus time to recover. He got to his feet steadily and lunged backward, feeling deep into his leather tunic with haste. The blades came down for the third time and nicked the top of Bol’s favoured leather cap, giving the rain a hole to soak, only to get jammed hard between the linings of wood in the jetty. Bol finally took his chance as Saxon panicked and pulled a mammoth sized Stone Club from his back, sending it flying down on His oppressor’s swords – shattering them to pieces. The large stone club stood glowing in the night rain, made from the purest of white marble – it was a fierce enemy.
Saxon found himself holding a breath, peeling his eyes wide to the sight of the dismembered swords. Bolborus heaved the club onto his left shoulder and stared down the end of it, aiming it carefully at his new prey – pacing toward him as he began to cower
“Why’d ya do it, sax? Thought we had a good thing goin’ here, thought your eyes weren’t lyin’ to me.” He stopped by Saxons grovelling face and set the stone club down slowly, firm across his thinly structured spine. Saxon cringed in pain
“T-the ship, Sir bluebeard – All I wanted was a bit of the ship to sell, just a bit’a silver or bronze for ma’ mother’s heart, ya’ see she’s dying friend - in her own home!” He then sobbed invisible tears down his soaking wool robe, rubbing his eyes – But Bolborus was smarter than this fool, he could smell the lies from truth and the sheep from the ram – so he forced his club down a fraction lower, slowly splintering the fragile bones of his enemy’s back, making the man scream in desperation for help – though the wind hid his agonising pleads.
“The truth, Sax – I want the truth, come now friend” He started to grow impatient, he was getting drenched and an oncoming cold, and the fact that Saxon severed his favourite cap was annoying enough.
“Ahhhh okay… god please…. Just don’t kill me.” He struggled with breath; his spine had begun to snap cleanly. “I wanted to thieve your vessel – I needed to – I have a cargo of Black throat Salt for the southern deserts and it needs to be delivered within the week, or it will be my tongue they come for… Please, grateful sir – I meant you no harm…” Bolborus scoffed at his plea, did he seriously just say ‘I meant you no harm’ he thought smiling; looking up to the roaring night wind he counted as many stars he could peek, and looked back down mourningly.
“Sorry, Sax – but this ship is my only home, beaten as it is, so you try take that – you got to get though me first, and considering your position I guess you failed at that too.” With that said Bol forced the solid club to the air with two stiff hands, and forced in down again onto his new friends spine. It instantly snapped in two like an old broom, protruding through the skin and wool with the colour of white snow.
As Saxon began convulsing on the floor, Bolborus sheathed his mammoth weapon then sprinted for the warmth of the opal lake tavern, leaving the body behind. Upon his drenched arrival, Mal turned to him from the bar looking questionably at his ruined cap.
“Where’s the new fella, eh? And what happened to ya’ bloody hat, you look ridiculous.” Mal slid a tankard of red liquid to a customer to his left, then another to the dwarf – smiling eagerly. Bol got back to his creaking stool drench in rain and took the drink, wiping a dollop off his nose.
“Ah not too sure, friend – started running off soon as we got to the docks, must’ve lost his spine on the way.” He snickered to himself, muffling it under this burly lip.
After a solid hour of discussing the tales of women past and swordplay, Mal disappeared behind the curtains of the bars kitchen – the sudden scent of caramelized onions whispering out with him. Mal still sat by the centre of the bar observing the hand crafted beauty that was the Opal Lake tavern. The entire structure was cut from the single trunk of a monstrous Sap Tree; its branches still creeping off its roof like dead hands grabbing for life, its large bodied silhouette mirroring off the black water. The inside shimmered with icy vanish, crystalizing the log walls with hardened beauty – Bolborus smiled, finishing his drink.
Mal emerged from the kitchen holding a large plate of swollen potatoes, glowing with golden onions - it revealed the mystery smell in all its piping glory. He walked past the dwarf and set it down by a pair of bald headed men, both wrapped in loose brown cloaks – they thanked there waiter with a bow and dug in. Mal walked back to the bar smiling happily, then sat down by his new friend once again.
“You seem a whole lot better, friend – been getting’ kisses back there or what?” Bolborus joked.
“ah if only friend, but nay – this is the smile of a happy man, little bastards can get me down, but nothing a little frying wont flip.” His smile seemed to increase over the night, as more customers came and went, ordered drinks and thank him on their way out – his young face began to emerge. His short brown hair was moist with steam, spiked to a tip from his wiping hand – drops of sweat waved down his large nose and into his mouth, which he spat out to the side. “Ah that’s right, where are me’ manners tonight – I’ve been meaning to ask ya’ friend, what sought of business could a bluebeard possibly have in Terrace? Beside the gorgeous water of course” He joked, for the water in the Opal Lake was black as the Nightlands and impossibly deep – a cruel joke.
Bolborus requested another Scorched Ale before presenting his business to the bartender – it appeared his affair with Saxon had sobered him up slightly. He took his drink in hand and gave it a long sip, then explained. “Im here on Courier duty, believe it or not!” Mal Snorted at the mention.
“You can’t be honest friend? A bluebeard on a Couriers service, now I’ve certainly seen the world!” he quickly turned to serve a customer Red wine, then spun back and finished. “You must be carrying a cargo of Silver, or at least a wounded king – fill me in ere’ mate, im far off?”
“Ahh if only I could, Mally – But im bound to my service men to keep it private, as goes the Bluebeard code of Valla and blah-blah…” He reached to the top of his head and scratched sharply, forgetting the small hole Saxons blades had given him. “But I can tell you this, as long you don’t repeat it for your life – Im meeting an old friend here, early tomorrow morn, says he’s got important business he needs me and ma’ ship for, wouldn’t tell me what or why, but I owe him more than one favour – so here I am.” Tilting his glass high he emptied the contents, spilling it across his short beard.
“Ahh well a friends work is never done they say, especially for old ones – so I say your doin’ a good service, friend.” Mal went to fill up Bol’s glass once more, before consulting the dire consequences in feeding a Dwarf more Ale then he can take, and hesitated. “Well In that case then, mate – you’ll be needing a room, eh?”
“Aye I will, friend – nothing too flashy, just somewhere I can rest me’ aching head would be more than suitable.”
“Not a problem then, follow me, fat one – if you can that is?” They both laughed to themselves and stood from there now sweaty stools, wobbling cautiously. Mal quickly pulled a bronze key from his apron pocket and locked the front and backs doors – then played follow the leader from the bar to a creaking stair case, going up to a small hallway filled with oddly shaped doors. Mal led Bolborus carefully to the largest door and invited him in.
“Now this is probably our most ‘suitable’ room, for a man of your… girth, so im sure you’ll be more than satisfied ere’” He led Bol in and showed him around. The first thing spotted was large branch protruding from the centre, its bark brittle and black. A large feathered bed lay firmly onto one side; while a small chamber pot and chest of draws where to the other – shots of lightning lit everything in the room, entering from a small chipped window, Bol was more than pleased.
“A fine room, friend – im sure I’ll go Aw’right from here on in, and thank you again for scorched, best I’ve ever had.” With that said, Mal asked whether he needed anything else, and left the dwarf to his lodgings – still smiling stupidly.
Tales of the Wolf riders
The great sun had disappeared over the cloudbank and beneath the tree line, shrouding the land in the safety of shadows. The rock frogs had begun to sing once more, calling out to their cold blooded mates.
“Farl, allow me to explain – you ah, may want to take a seat for this. Lav, re-log the fire – we’ll need it.” He led Farl from the safety of the tent and onto the log seats they had dawned the day before. Farl stared through his bandages to the sights that surrounded him, like he had not seen a speck of green for years. He took a seat by Thalraan on the warm log, and listened to his new uncle with content.
He took a breath, and continued, “Let me begin by saying, your father did not abandon you Farl, nor did he your mother – he was simply doing his duty,” he began biting his thumb nail, “you see: his name is Lord Reaf of Ru’en, just under thirty years ago he was considered the greatest of warriors and ‘blades-for-hire’ Stae’sion had ever seen, he stormed in the front line of ever war and conquest the land had ever staged, and sent the enemy back to the dirt – forth with he was named lord of the Eastland’s, by the high rulers of the mountain cities - and given the city of Ru’en, to do as he pleased.” Countess poked his burley head from the woollen tent, and peered at the two fire sitters, then continued the blurred history himself.
“The city of Ru’en was, well – in Ruin” He chuckled then sat by farls side “but the gift of a city is not to be dismissed, regardless of its stature. With the help of the kings’ men – me being one of them at the time, though many wrinkles younger – rebuilt the city to grand proportions; we raised it from the ground and embroidered it with the colours of the Fourlord kingdom, to a sight of magnificence.” He raised his hands to the air as if casting magic, then rested them to his lap.
Thalraan took over again, “Your father and Countess here became great friends within the year of refurbishing the city, and grew to become almost brothers – it was almost sickening to watch” He joked, looking into the dark man’s eyes, “and that was when I joined the Ru’en Ranks and blah blah… a rather boring history I know, but just give me a moment longer to explain.” Thalraan stood up face palming and walked to a narrow tree, leaning on its rough surface – then let out an eerie whistle. It rang through the trees and into the warm day, echoing off rock and wood. Then suddenly from the thick brush the three gargantuan wolves came running, racing to the call of one of their riders – smashing plants in their way. Sunder was the first wolf to reach the skirts of Thalraan, greeting him with a hard push to the chest, with his gigantic spiked nose – then the other two followed suit. He patted them slowly for a minute’s time, before Lavree walked from the tent clutching bowels of dried fruits and venison. The sight lifted Farls dreary head, as he hadn’t eaten properly in a fortnight. Lavree sat by farl and countess each handing them a topped bowl, smiling with anticipation. Countess instantly dug into the home grown dish and created a colourful mess – though Farl was hesitant, he looked at the bowl oddly for a minutes time, examining its contents with care, then slowly lifted one section of his face wraps, reviling his pale-pink lips – and ate gluttonously.
Seeing the men’s smiles of appreciation to the meal, Lavree smiled back – then flapped her tongue relentlessly. “Haha, told you I could cook, Countess – you fat bastard, ain’t got my head so far up here anymore do I?!” She pointed to her bent ass then ran back to the tent cackling stupidly. Countess only rolled his eyes, though Farl seemed rather intrigued – it had been months since he had seen a respectable female girl, let alone one as gorgeous as Lavree, he couldn’t help but blush under his wraps to the sight of her crystal eyes.
“Uh can I please finish this history, poor Farl here probably thinks we’re all bloody psychopaths – well this one especially…” He pointed to Lavree grinning from the tent, and then finally reached his verdict. “I am very sorry to keep you waiting Farl; you of all people deserve to know this. As I was saying, your father and Countess became great friends, and he eventually named him his grand officer – which is above all the greatest of honours, especially to the lord of a city.” He turned from Farls view and coughed white ooze from his throat, horsing horridly. “Excuse my vile, nephew. So years passed on as they did normally for your father, he fought in a great battle to the south, and another within the tombs of The Eye – leading each with great dignity.” Stopping again to turn and heave he hesitated before his body could, almost on purpose – like he was holding his breath. “Then strange as all occurrences to your father, upon a duty to the great western land, Snowhaven – your homeland of course, and to the Mountain Besek – he met his wickedest foe of them all, Your mother, Fern.” The mention of Farls Mother suddenly stirred something warm inside of his stomach and also something black and malicious, he then spoke for the second time.
“My, mother…” His was shaking, almost distant to his onlookers – almost tearing.
“Yes, Farl – your father met your mother’s eyes within the icy walls of your home, in the Summer-brew Tavern, if memory serves. And his eyes stayed there with her, as did his war weathered mind. The duty of which he was instructed abandoned him, left him for the sight of the rarest of beauties, and our captain was lost.” Countess had a smile on his face for the first time since killing the Blackale guardsmen; it was a refreshing sight to Thalraan. “He stayed in Snowhaven with your mother and we were sent back on the long trek home to Ru’en, without a leader or reason for march, except old Countess – who took a firm grip on the lot. Word of your father disappeared with us and we didn’t hear from the man for the solid hours of a year, thus Ru’en was in a state of post collapse.” He took a deep breath, stretching his warm chest, and finished his tale. “Until the morn of a winters day revealed your father through the doors of Ru’en, baring a look of total placidness. He had gathered his long waited men in the wine hall and spoke a grand speech of his time in the west – the speech that would shape our very reasoning:
“Brothers! Sisters! I return to you now, I come back from the ice of the north to bring news of heartache and joy! Bear with these words my friends, for they do not make sense to my mind either – I have had council with the Goddess of old, the Skyhunter!”
“Of course everyone thought he had gone mad, his ravings were that of a fool’s son, not the lord of Ru’en – but we soon took note, for a true leader shall never lie to his subjects!” Countess interrupted, and then Thalraan continued:
“You see my dearest of loves, the beauty that is the maiden Fern, could not bear child – nor take the weight of a man’s love, and thus we pleaded to the mountains fare, begged for appraisal, but nought came through to us in the end. My decision came to me in a nights rest, I would climb the peeks of the mighty Besek, brave its craggy edges – for the single chance of crafting my heir.
“The slopes were treacherous, the ice was cruel! Though I fought my way to the top of its gorgeous spires – and there bent to knee and palm to the mighty Besek, ‘Give me a son, worthy of Ru’en – I vouch my sword to thee, oh loving Besek!”
“It was there and then the miracle did appear before me, shining in golden light of silver and fire – The Skyhunter herself! She cast down unto my injured torso and lifted me to my feet, filling me with warmth once again. Behind the goddess fair stood four august men, each dawning a crown of gold, jewels and pearl – I knew upon first glance that they were the mighty four kings of old, William Redshanks, Ca’rel Karrus K’um, Medrol Fourlord, and Billium Besek!”
“There before me stood the birth givers of all creation, the five messiahs that had stitched the world from the beginning – and there I begged once more, pleaded to my last tears,’ Give me a son, worthy of Ru’en – I vouch my sword to thee, of loving creators, I vouch my heart and soul to thee!’ and with that they spoke back to my peasant demands, with the purest of loves.
“Reaf of Ru’en, your pleads of a new son shall be fordone, in the womb of thy Dearest fern – he shall be the greatest king this land Stae’sion has yet to witness, or ever will – he shall fury the sword and sling bow with the strength of a thousand men, and lay waste to the Viles girting this earth we have formed.”
“Though a price is at stake, an equal exchange in your tongue – that of which has forever bound us to the pitches of the Nightlands. Upon the frost of the winter’s night, Gorgonial of the Eye banished us to its depths, casting us into eternal solitude. Though a price too he suffered, a grand mistake he fed all to wrong – upon his web of black magic he cast his own soul into the roots of the land, ending his own and splitting his will. He was fed deep into the souls of the mountains four, forever to sit and suffer the lonesome horrors he put onto himself.
“Though with this done, with his punishment in formation – I too missed a crucial truth. His bleak soul could never be enough to sustain the great land of Stae’sion, for I and my mountains where gone, gone and banished to a helpless seat to watch the madness unfold. Wars began to rage, kingdoms began to split, and the very land began to slowly die, as it still does this day.”
“The blood of our people has gone on spilt for to many autumns past, too many nights have we watched in terror as our kingdoms fall to the hands of each other. This child is where your guidance is required. The four mountains, the four broken rocks growing from the soil must die, they must be smite to the wind and cast away, only then will the broken soul of Gorgonial leave the land, only then can we return! It falls to thee, Reaf of Ru’en – to do so, and only then, will you get your son”
“But how, how can I man of middle age simply beseech a grand mountain” I asked pleaded to my knees once more – and then the answer was given to me by the grand King Billium Besek, his white main casting off into the ice wind!
“Thy friend, Reaf of Ru’en, your heir be a Demigod of silver and fire! Upon his birth, he shall be known as so! He shall be cast from the womb pale as the grandmother Goddess herself – and there you shall take him, take him away into the deepest reaches of Stae’sion and teach him the ways of your blade. For only the touch of a god’s silver can stop the beating heart of a mountain.”
“The great man stepped back and allowed his white skinned mother forward; there she gave me the choice:”
“We shall give you your son young Reaf of Ru’en, to help the banishing’s take place ever sooner. Though if you and he do not take out our kind wishes, your son shall return to us, return to the abysmal lands we forever sit. Do you accept our wishes, Reaf of Ru’en?”
“My mind span and my heart stopped, I was a stone wall in the face of such grace – I couldn’t muster the words. Then I grew the hidden courage and spoke.”
“My Goddess, my Lords of Stae’sion, I accept thy wishes, I accept the courier duties you have burdened me – at the simple reward of an heir to my kingdom.”
“suddenly the glow of the creators vanished and I was sucked through their magic and might, back to the light of the ice city, Snowhaven. There I found my dearest wife Fern sitting upon a log stool, wedeling at her wooden clogs – I took her by the hands and cast her into the bedroom, planting the seed of the gods deep into her womb! From there I fled the city within the night, kissed my love a short goodbye, and returned to you, my people!”
“The noise of cheer coming from the halls of Ru’en was heard from edges of every good in the east – they cheered and clapped for the grand return of their captain. But crucial questions remained, why the lord Reaf leave his loving wife with child – then he answered with a lavish grin.” Countess took over; Thalraan walked to the tent to catch his breath – spotting Lavree stuffing her mouth with that night’s potatoes.
“I have come to gather a small army of my finest swordsman and archers to join me onto this dangerous test of faith! Nine members shall be chosen by me, your lord – and from there we shall set off for the birth of my son, to train him in the sword and bow, shield and spear – who shall be on my side?”
“And so, your father the grand lord of Ru’en, took his band of great men on the diagonal trek to Snowhaven, marching with the white flags of their homeland, entered the great Westland’s.” Lavree emerged from the tent carrying a small wrap of leather under her arm; her hands were too busy with a keg of hot potato soup. She put it down hard on a stump table and walked to the others, un-wrapping the leather to reveal a well-used map. “They marched across the edges of the Opal Lake, and crossed the wicked bridges of the Cracks of Ca’rel, passed the woods of Marrow and into the deadly snowfields of Besek.” She traced an invisible line with her finger going to each different land mark of Stae’sion. Thalraan took over,
“But what they would find was beyond belief and beyond hope – for the city of Snowhaven was in disarray" he looked deep into Farl’s eyes, and he could tell they were filled with pure sorrow, it was a painful topic. “Its gorgeous snow-capped towers were breathed in flame, its courts and markets were bashed and broken, its people melted to their cores.” He looked to his leather shoes and brushed his long black hair from his cheek, revealing his leathery skin. “A mass of Blackthroat raiders has overpowered the city in its slumber, slaughtered the guards and took the women - a heinous act beyond apologetics. The good Lord Reaf searched hard and long for his dear Fern, but she – and his unborn son – where not to be found. The ash piles soon filled with the tears of your father, vaporising off the fired cities heat, and crushing his already aching chest. He and his nine men disbanded shortly after, lost of all hope they one by one returned to Ru’en, abandoning all hope.”
Farl searched deep into Thalraan’s eyes, almost seeking to comfort him on the bad news he was forced to dish to his nephew. An awkward silence hung in the air, though for the companions it was unsure why, for Farl was alive and well – then without warning, Farl took over.
“Allow me, Thalraan, to finish your dismal truths” His voice become calm and loving, no longer afraid of the new strangers. “Yes it is true, my homeland – and dear mother were killed, in the Blackthroat raids. Though I was not, for my birth had already taken place, the prier day. You see due to my mother’s unexpected pregnancy, I came three days early, blessing her a small gift – and allowing time for my saviours to come…”
It appeared Thalraan and the others were lost to this point, for no one knew what had happened before Farl’s life beyond three days ago, so they sat and listened with content.
“I assume you three have knowledge of the Mystics?” the words suddenly shook Countess and Thalraan to their cores, for the mystics should not be named upon normal days.
“Of course we have – mad raving deformities is all they are, hidden away in there twisted campsites, praying to the stars. Where do they fit in this?” Countess’s tone grew spiteful, as if a bad run in with the newly spoken creatures filled his mind.
“Well – on my third day of life, a cloaked man by the name of Abra’hun visited my mother’s lonely Snowhaven residence, on a rather blistering day. She invited the man in under the pretence of a warm place to wade out the snow, though when he made himself at home his intention soon became clear. He told my mother of his true being, a Mystic – and as for the reason of his arrival she was baffled. He began to explain to her the truths of her new born child and the destiny he played in the new world, though she was reluctant to pay heave.”
Lavree stood up and muffled something under her tongue that sounded like “I’ll need some ruby-weed for this” and paced for her hanging leather cloak to fetch. Farl continued,
“Beyond any means of explanation my mother refused to give up her child, and knew the words of a mystic were not to be trusted – he pleaded to her feet for reason, but still nothing. Without further choice he launched at my mother, putting his twisted fingers to her pale temples, and fed her his morbid knowledge. What she saw was the world in which I never took part, the land of Stae’sion in its bleakest peak – the land was dead and the rivers dry, the trees had burnt and the bones of its people dotting the dust – a Nightlands scene. She forced herself away and fell to the floor with screams, clutching her baby boy as he cried. A vision would become reality, which she was sure of; she now felt every moan and tear, ever dry throat and empty stomach in the future days of her homeland. The child must go with the Mystics he told her, the child must remain with them until the day of his twentieth birthday, where he would be train in the way of the earth and stars and seas and winds, where he would become the saviour the land so desperately needed.”
Farl took a long chug of his potato soup, tilting his head back far, and then wiped his upper lip clean with the sleave of his woollen cloak, taking a long sigh of fresh air.
“My mother agreed to his terms, agreed to give away her only son for the safety of her land and people. Though little did the mystic know, for his time was spend in the need of the child, that a battle was soon to be waged upon Snowhaven, a raid that would destroy the valiant city for some years to come, would form the very next day. Blackthroat bandits swarmed the city in its sleep, and did horrid things as Thalraan explained – ending the cities free culture.”
“But Farl, what happened to you – your father and I were in hysterics, you must tell us now!” Thalraan eyes became pools of blue, his heart longed for answers.
“Abra’hun took me that very night as he had intended; cast me away in white wraps to his hidden camp south of the burning city, where I would be safe – though it was much too late for my dear mother and her peoples, they became slaves of torture to the bandits will.”
The silence returned, though much denser and bleak. Red truffles of smoke danced through the air as Lavree puffed at her pipe, looking into the morning sun that shone brilliantly off her golden braid.
“As for what happened in my time with the Mystics, can wait for late noon - for my chest aches, and pleads me for fresh air” Farl grew tired, his back began to slouch and his knees buckle. A day of rest was in order.
The afternoon began to set in as the shadows of the tall trees grew longer, mirroring their beauty in black shades. The grounds soft pine needle flooring created the perfect place for a look at the blue half cloud sky – Farl felt free for the first time in years, the sights of the forest of marrow blessed his squinting eyes and the wind cooled him, though he couldn’t shake the eerie feeling, of twisted whispers through the pines
The Red Desert – Within the black walls of the city of flies
A lone piece of copper sand sailed through the hot air of the City of flies, playing with the yellow sunlight that was slowly beginning to set. It floated up and around the narrow streets, bleached with crime, and rolled of its battered markets, eager to escape its prison like home. The breeze picked up immensely, digging up more of its copper brothers – preparing for the sand storm that would soon gather. The cloud of and now moved higher and deeper into the walls of the city, flying just over the cracked roofs of Skullcap castle, an area it tried ever so hard to avoid, though when the wind stopped, decent was inevitable – it scattered downward in small groups raining over the already dusty castle towers and through its unmanageable gaping holes, worn away by time and the lack of moisture. Once again the copper grain found itself alone, floating steadily downward. It was falling into the bleak chambers of Skullcap castles highest tower - pleading to return to the dry air it once tried to evade.
Within the dark chamber was a single, round window, decorated coarsely with the bodies of dead flies, so many surrounded the small area it looked almost for reason. In the centre of the room sat a large four poster bed, curtain less and laced with red, supporting the feather like weight of a sleeping boy. His olive green skin shone dully in the searing sun as his chest slowing rose and fell - though it bounced off in every direction as it touched a strange steel mask that encased his jaw and nose. Six leathery pipes ran off the mouth apparatus and into a larger wooden box – a strange vapour steaming out from its cracks.
The copper grain was almost at the end of its fall, cascading directly toward where the sleeping boy lay – firstly hitting the corner of his four poster bed, thinking it was safe - then unintentionally dropping down unto his yellow pillow. The boy began to move in his slumber, jabbing his neck to the right and muttering words in a nonsensical delusion. The grain began to bounce on the pillow, leaning closer to the sleeper’s brow now moist brow. The boy knocked his head once more, setting the grain on a slow downward pace onto his balled head, and then rolling down into the sketchy depths of his dried tear duct.
The boy awoke sharply, darting up from his bed and onto his feet screaming “Mother I am sorry! I am sorry!” he was in a state of panic, his breathing became that of a frightened mouse, and his heart beat quickly followed suit. He fell to his knees and began to recover, remembering where he was, who he was, and why. After catching his breath, he got back up to his feet and watched the small grain of sand fall from his eye and onto the clean wooden flooring with silent delicacy. He leant over, cringing as his crooked spine bent, and picked up the small grain in his thin finger tips. Its surface was smooth as a child’s cheek, sleek and aerodynamic, I true knower of freedom. Sighing with an almost envious tone, he began to crush the small grain in his rough hands – a wisp of steam suddenly puffed from his closed fist, along with a glow of red hatred. Opening his hand, he revealed a small piece of jagged crystal glass – and a now bleeding palm
Forgetting his minor injury, the boy walked over to a small set of rusted chest he kept in the far corner of his chamber, each filled with assortments of Silver and ancient clothing, and picked out a short silk tunic and woollen belt. Wrapping the cloth around his naked body he began to peer out his small dead fly window, at the bleak city that lay before him. Its dark skinned peoples bustled and jittered to get their merchandise and children out of the oncoming storm, locking doors and sealing rafters – a common chore. The orange sky began to turn bleaker with the coming of night and the cloud of sand, it made for a beautiful view.
Suddenly the large brown doors of the sleeping chambers began to sing with the sounds of heavy knocks, creating a ringing echo. The boy peered behind his protruding shoulder bone for a moment of interest, and then looked back to his window view and spoke “Enter” in a clouded voice that did not suit his age for the slightest.
Three mountain like men entered the room, each cloaked in suits of black plate armour and capes. Tall cone shaped helmets sat on their heads, shrouding their faces and masking their voices in dark, despite the multiple breathing holes. The tallest of the trio suddenly stepped forward and spoke in a muffled voice. “My lord Verbane, the council wishes to have word with you at once – please make haste for I am sure the news will appease you greatly.” A long red stripe ran down the front of his helmet, and his alone - An achievement the others had not yet earned.
The small boy they referred to as Lord Verbane turned around and tilted his left brow and crossed his arms, suddenly interested in what the three armoured men had to say. “What could they want in the dawning of night, they know sleep is of great importance to me, yet they continue to mock me with their idle requests.” He turned back around and continued to peer.
“A rider in the night my Lord – a courier guard from the Blackale camp, says the camp was attacked not three days ago by a trio of blue cloaked drifters. Though there is more, though he would not say until your attendance, my Lord” The Red striped guard stepped a pace closer to his young lord, with idle caution.
“I see – in that case tell the council I shall be seated with them momentarily, I must make up some medicine first. That’ll be all, captain.” The three men tilted their heads in tribute and spun back the way they came, jogging a steady pace.
The young Lord Verbane still stood at his small windowsill, peering deep into the streets of the City he called home and sighing painfully into his iron mask. Turning back he walked for his rusted chests once again, this time toward a much smaller one to the right of the rest, sealed with a hefty steel lock. He leant down, cringing again, and took an ancient looking key from his neck chain and unlocked the alluring box, revealing its glowing contents.
Inside were multiple beakers of green and brown solution, each lowly simmering on hot coals he kept running, day in and day out. He carefully lifted one of the glass cylinders out with the tip of his nails and walked it toward the large rig his leather face hoses and mask were connected to, and then lifted a hatch on its side. Inside of the wooden rig was a large bubbling cauldron of the same green nectar, though somehow thicker and much darker in colour. Taking a deep, elongated breath he took hold of the six hoses that sat at the head of the cauldron and lifted them out with caution then ran them back over to his set of chests. Rummaging through a leather belted one as best he could he lifted out a small lantern like object and set it down by his feet, then shut the remaining chest whilst still holding his small lungs. Picking up the strange device he twisted off the wooden lid with a pop, releasing a perfume of strange gasses, then poured in the warm beaker of green liquid inside, making sure to not miss a drop. He then reached for the bottom and twisted it off quickly with another pop, and ran back to the cauldron with the base in his hand; he then filled it with red hot coals. Twisting it back on, he quickly connected the leather hoses to six small spouts and watched as the liquid began to steam from the heat. A breath of fresh, green air filled his lungs, relaxing him dearly. He strapped the bottle of steaming juice to his woollen belt and took a few more steady breaths – then began to walk for his council meeting.
The orange sunlight had vanished from the City of Flies and the Great pearl moon had made an appearance, kissing the forgotten city with lips of white – though slightly shrouded by the cloud of copper sand. The boy, Lord Verbane, sat upon a carved wooden throne with his hand palming his face tightly, awaiting the arrival of the hour late council members – his lantern of green juice bubbling away. The council hall was a magnificent spectacle, with stain glass windows and shelves of shelves of books, bells of the old church and honeydew tea in every corner – so the young lord didn’t mind the wait.
Shortly after, ten balding men each wrapped in red and black robes of silk, hobbled in slowly muttering to themselves and then took their seats – Verbane eagerly awaiting the news they had made such a big deal over. The oldest of the councilman, the closest to the young lord was the first to speak – his voice rusted and cracked.
“My lord Verbane, firstly allow us to apologize for the rude awakening upon your sleeping hours, we did not mean harm to your rest.” They all stared at the young boy restlessly
“It is fine, Allarn – as long as you and your brethren do not waste my time, as you have in the past, then the pleasure will be mine. Please, go on?” Verbane was eager, and didn’t want to beat around with apologetics.
“Well you see my lord, as the red captain had informed you, a wounded guardsman cast from Blackale rode to us in the night, his journey took four long days and three blistering nights, without food nor drink, for his message was dire and could not miss this exact moment. When he arrived, and shortly recovered, he spoke of a great assault on the large camp, of which few men survived – he said was not an army of men, but merely three wanderers.” The man known as Allarn began speaking rapidly, his eyes dancing off the lords steel mask.
“Three blue cloaked assassins came out of nowhere and ravaged the small area to bits, burning and ripping their way through, until they reached the main hall of justice – the hall of bees. They then proceeded to kill every innocent kinsman inside, in search for an unknown prize.”
“How does this rider know of all of this exactly – was he hiding in the hall?” Lord Verbane interrupted.
“No, my lord – he was a ranger guard on the rooftop quarters of the Hall, he could see, hear, and smell every inch of the trauma.” Said a second old councilman to Verbane’s right
“Did this man manage to see what these fiends were so determined to find, or was his horse already running by then?”
“He did my lord – and what they had destroyed the Blackale camp for, and killed innocent men – is the reason we summon you here with us.” He took another long breath, and said. “They were looking for a young man, with skin of the snow and lips of blood, with stick like limbs and a marble chest – they were searching for the boy my lord, the son of the goddess and nephew of the old kings. They were searching for Farl my lord, and they found him.”
“The boy lives”
A cold silence hung in the air of the hall, time seemed to sit still in the eyes of Verbane as the news hit his eyes. He began scraping his long yellow nails across the polished wooden table, then continued to hoist it in his arms flipping it to the side, turning the faces of the council members a ghoulish white.
“Are you telling me, wise Allarn, that the boy we sent ten thousand men to kill, who was still in that Pailord whores stomach, managed to survive the Snowhaven raid...” His jaw began to clench so tightly that his iron mask began to loosen, which he quickly tightened, taking multiple breaths.
“My Lord you must understand, we did our best to insure not a single Pailord was kept alive that night, our sweep of the city was flawless!” Allarn begged his ruler.
“Well clearly you mongrel dogs missed a dam pregnant woman in your ‘sweep’, heave my words Allarn this is the last time I’ll see you on my council! Guards, take this man to the oubliettes, and don’t take him out until he learns the meaning out ‘duty’” With that the soft faced Allarn pleaded to Verbane to reconsider and think of his next movements, though the Red guardsmen dawned in cone helmets had already dragged him from his chair. Verbane sat back own into his throne and began breathing heavily, palming his young face carefully.
“Paes, please bring me this Blackale guardsman so I can question him myself, and for the love of the old mountains make it quick.” The second leader of the council Paes quickly bowed to his lord and hopped away to find the wounded guardsman, jitty with fear.