X – War [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Five years later, in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town on the outskirts of a small city in Vithr, Nita sat awake, holding the little money they had left in the palm of his hand. They’d had to sell most of the land around them off, which had fetched a tidy sum, but most of that had gone now, and no one wished to hire the son of someone whom the North Wind had taken.

Nita looked over at his sister, asleep. She looked peaceful, even after all these years of hardship. She had never lost that childlike confidence, and it now manifested itself in a kind of beauty. Nita wished he could have that same kind of peace. Even now he still suffered from terrible flashbacks; his father leaving quickly, the house falling apart around them, him nearly getting beaten half to death.

He was twenty-two now and had been a true no-a for two years. Yet he felt no more powerful than he had felt all those years ago. Outside, the wind howled and screamed as it threw itself against the house. It stood firm, though. After North Winds began to blow with more frequency, everyone had started constructing out of brick and mortar instead of wood. Buying that upgrade was one of the things that had put their finances under the water.

It was funny, how the very same thing that killed his father was now considered commonplace. The thing that had driven him and his sister to abject poverty was talked about as if it was simply ordinary weather. Had everybody forgotten what these winds meant? Did no one realize that their Flamelord was leading them headfirst into calamity? He nearly slammed his fist on the table at the thought, but looking at Vir calmed him.

She stirred in her sleep, as if sensing his tumultuous emotions. He could have sworn that she had some sort of sixth sense. The times he’d gotten into trouble, trying to disguise his easily-recognized face so he could get work, when he’d been attacked by a pack of wolves while delivering a parcel in a North Wind. She even knew when his mind traveled to that bitter place where he railed against his father and cursed him for leaving them.

Yes, his sister was special, and he would do everything he could to provide for and take care of her. She kept his humanity alive. She was the only source of joy in his life. But now he had to leave. There was only one place he knew of that would accept him and pay him wages: the army.

Two years after the Firelord had supposedly been given the throne, he declared war on Asyther, building off of rumors that the assassin had come from the Asythian kingdom, and thus the Everking and his subjects were responsible. After three years, the war still raged on with no less fury than before. Nita was surprised that their Flamelord had kept up as strong a front against the Asythians as he had. Asyther was, after all, the bigger and stronger country.

The wind outside had died down to the occasional gust.

Nita shrugged his shoulders and let the coins slip out of his hand and onto the table. They barely even clinked, there were so few. With a glance over to his sister, Nita picked one up and set it spinning for good luck, then he left.

When Vir woke up the next morning with the sun shining in strongly through the window, she knew something was the matter. Nita may care for her, but he would never allow her to sleep away precious daylight, not with the way their finances were. Their finances! She caught sight of the small pile of coins on the table and instantly knew what had happened.

Recruiters had just passed through their town. While they’d been there, she’d kept a careful eye on Nita, knowing that he would try to join the military, but she’d relaxed her guard when they left. Apparently she’d relaxed too soon.

“Sha take you, you idiot,” she cursed, grabbing the money and slipping it into a pouch.

She rifled through her few remaining clothes and found the worn traveling cloak that had belonged to her father. It was too big, but it would have to do. Putting on a couple of layers of her threadbare clothes — she had no idea how long she would be out — she shrugged on the coat.

Hurriedly, she filled a small sack with their remaining food. How long had it been since Nita had left? She should have suspected something when he insisted on staying up. How could she have been so stupid? Why could she never wake up early on her own?

Having packed food, she glanced hurriedly around. A weapon, of course. She snatched their kitchen knife out of the drawer and slipped it into her coat pocket. Then, putting on a pair of boots, she ran out the door.

Where had those recruiters said they were going next? Vir wanted to ask the passersby about her brother, but she knew they would not speak to her. Why did she have to be cursed because her father had died trying to save her mother? It made no sense. She hated small town superstitions.

That was it! The recruiters been headed to Hearthlord Rhin’s lands, Rhineground, complaining about their small farming towns. A small voice warned that she should take their hyshum, so Vir headed for the stalls, but when she heard no scraping of hoofs, she knew what she would find. The stall was empty. Nita had ridden off. How in all of Sha had she not heard him gallop off on a Sha-bound hyshum?

A look of determination settled on her face. She would walk if she had to. But he would be much faster on a hyshum, the small voice whispered. No, she decided. She would walk. Even if she didn’t catch the recruitment party in Hearthlord Rhin’s lands, there nobody would know her as cursed, and she would buy a hyshum to carry her.

With this resolution in locked firmly in her mind, Vir headed out onto the road in the direction of Rhineground.

Hours later, as the sun began to set and the moon started to rise, Vir continued to stumble forward. Her feet were sore from all the walking, and her mind had gone numb just thinking about the endless plodding. She had no idea how much further Rhineground was. Perhaps it had been rash of her to just rush out after Nita like that. But she couldn’t let him go to war. He had been through enough for her sake already.

This thought drove her further onwards, and gritting her teeth, she continued to walk. But as the sun sank below the horizon, its warmth drained away, and she could feel the chill of the night creeping in. After a North Wind, the following evening was always especially cold. People used to say it was because a darker fate approached, but now everybody just said it was bad weather.

Vir realized her mind was wandering, and caught herself as she was about to walk off the road. She had nearly fallen asleep while walking? Unbelievable. Why did she have to enjoy sleep so much?

Then her long, sensitive ears picked up on a rattling behind her that grew increasingly louder. She knew that she should get off the road, in case what approached was not friendly, but she felt so tired that she could not bring herself to care enough.

So she stood there, wrapped in an oversized cloak, hunched from exhaustion, holding a hand out in the hopes that whoever was coming would give her a ride.

By the time the merchant pulled up beside her, she could barely mutter out a sentence. When he reached down to help her onto his cart, she stared at his hand blankly for a few seconds before realizing its purpose, and the instant the wiry man cracked his whip and the cart started moving, the young girl fell fast asleep.

Tours yruly

VIII – Death Wears Black [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Botha was concerned, very concerned indeed. The particles on his device had come from only one source: smoke. It took a very special kind of fire to burn with smoke, and he knew of only one source that could produce that kind of fire. Unfortunately, all his knowledge mostly came from myth and legend.

He rummaged around the shelves in his crowded hut, searching for a book that he had put away long ago. Botha found the tome in the very furthest corner, buried beneath a mound of papers and other oddities. Very carefully, he pulled it out. Its pages were aged and the slightest abrasion caused its cover to flake.

Putting it gently on the table, Botha opened it to a page he had memorized from the day he’d received the book. Most of the text had faded over time, but he did soon find the passage he’d been hunting for. The Seventh Prayer:

Light is on my side
Light do not forsake me
In the darkness hide
Darkness that’s inside me

Breathe it from within
Exhale from without
This my smoke is kin
All shall fire out

The rest of the cryptic passage had not been translated, and any remaining commentary had been blotted out by spots of time, but Botha had heard enough stories.

Legends said the Seven Kin were seven men and women chosen from the nations of the world to ward off an evil so great, all of humankind had forgotten it. This did not agree with contemporary texts, since for all recorded history, there had only been two nations: Vithr and Asyther. But ancient legend never agreed with history in the first place.

It was said that the Seventh Kin had the ability to control smoke. From there, the rumors grew wild with speculation as to what exactly the powers of this mythical figure was. What was known was that he’d written the text Botha had read out of, and that he’d written six other prayers for the other six Kin.

If there was smoke in the palace, it could only mean one thing. The Seventh Kin had to have existed, and some descendent of him or her had committed the murder.

What could this mean, though? Why would a descendent of the Seventh Kin murder the king of Vithr? And how much of the legends were true? Botha had heard some of the rumors spreading about the phenomena regarding the messenger in the Everking’s palace. Was that also related to this? It seemed that what the doctors had written off as simple heart failure was not as simple as they’d thought.

The Flamelord had given him express instructions against telling anybody about his discovery, so when Novana had paid him a visit, he’d merely smiled and said that the Hearthlord’s suspicions had been confirmed, and nobody had murdered the king. But in his heart, Botha was deeply disturbed. Dark times were most certainly coming. He could feel it, a cold prickle on his skin, and chill in the very core of his spine.

He shook his head. There was no need for such dark thoughts. His inventions would prove distraction enough while the Flamelord decided what to do. The investigator was glad that he did not have the responsibility of the entire kingdom weighing on each decision he made.

As Botha began working on a new mechanism to prepare his breakfast in the morning, his spirits lifted, and he started to whistle. This felt natural to him. Fitting cogs and gears into place, tightening bolts, and adjusting levers and cranks made him happy. His job as an investigator was merely something to provide him with the money and sustenance required for his tinkering. Not to mention the fact that it allowed him to try out his inventions.

The unbidden thought that his invention had been the thing to detect that the former Flamelord had been murdered intruded into his pleasant state of mind. Like a shadow, it wiped all the joy away from his work, and for the first time he stared at his creation with disgust.

Sure, it was arguably a good thing that he’d been able to detect the crime that had happened, but Botha had not made his contraptions to find evil. He shook his head as he put away his toolkit. That would be enough fiddling for today.

Slipping a few coins in his pocket, the inventor headed out onto the streets to spend the night at his favorite tavern. It was strange. While there was nothing that could beat the meals produced by the royal chefs of Vithr, it was in Asyther where the best alcoholic beverages were. Botha supposed this spoke to the Asythian love of drink and celebration, but that was something that he did not mind.

He crossed into Asyther an hour before the sun set in the hills. His object, the Roaring Radgar, cast a warm, inviting light on its surroundings. The lack of a flicker gave the light away, however, and Botha knew that it was a special kind of tinted window that was designed to make light cast by flameglobes to appear as if it was firelight. He knew this because he’d made the windows himself in exchange for a free drink once a week.

“Ghola, my good friend,” the barkeep said with a grin as Botha entered. While Botha was sure that the barkeep knew who he actually was, he preferred that nobody else in the bar catch on to the fact that Vithr’s chief investigator frequented the joint.

“Lavert,” Botha grinned back. “I’ll have the usual drink in my usual place for the usual fee.”

The barkeep mocked a look of indignance. “You know you never pay!”

“And I know that you know why,” Botha said, winking at the barkeep.

“Shut up and have a seat, I’ll get you your drink,” Lavert replied, realizing that they’d drawn some attention.

Botha looked around at the many customers in the tavern and felt no small amount of pride that his windows had such an effect. Sure, the amount of customers was probably due more to the clean and well-kept joint that Lavert had, but an inventor had to have some pride in what he had made.

The inventor gratefully accepted the steaming cup of Rendelfel from the barkeep and sipped it slowly as he watched the patrons. This was another hobby of his: people watching. He did it all the time, and it was probably why he was so good with people.

For the most part, Botha was able to recognize each of the patrons by name, and if he did not know their name, he was at least able to recall the last time they’d visited. So it was with no small amount of curiosity that he studied the man in black who entered quietly.

Lavert was quick to approach the stranger and take his order, which obscured Botha’s view for a while, but the investigator’s interest had been piqued, and he stared subtly as the man seated himself at a table.

Unlike most of the other people in the bar, who were talking and laughing loudly, this person said nothing and did nothing. His attitude seemed quite forced, and he looked uncomfortable in his environment.

Shrugging his shoulders dismissively, Botha turned to look at his cup. Empty. Too bad. He looked back up, but the stranger was gone. Strange, he had not heard the man leave.

Picking up his cup, Botha headed over to Lavert to hand it in. The barkeep was standing at the table the stranger had sat at, looking around confusedly.

“What’s wrong, Lavert?” Botha asked genially.

“That strange man, he’s gone,” the barkeep replied, scratching his head.

Suddenly, the smile left Botha’s face, and he grew pale. All sound seemed to fade as his brain zoned in on what he smelled. Smoke.

Tours yruly

I – A Northwind Blows [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

“Father! Father!” A girl, blonde pigtails flying behind her, burst into a small farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town on the outskirts of a small city on the outskirts of the nation Vithr.

“What is it?” Quin-Dava looked up from his third failed attempt at cooking something edible.

“The wind! The wind!” his twelve-year-old daughter squealed, her long, Vith ears twitching in nervousness.

“What about the wind, dear?” he asked, his blue eyes showing tiredness.

“It comes from the North,” she said matter-of-factly, playing with the aa on the front of her dress.

Dava’s bronzed complexion turned pale. “Are you sure Vir? Are you sure?” he demanded.

“Of course. I licked my finger like you taught me. It got cold on the North side.”

“No….” Dava closed his eyes, and his face creased for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. “Stay inside Vir, I’ll go get Nit to look after you.”

“What about mommy?” The little girl looked up at her father with complete confidence in his abilities.

With a strong effort, he smiled down at his daughter and ruffled her hair. “Don’t you worry. I’ll bring mommy back. You wait here and be safe.”

She nodded and stood watching after him as he rushed out. Already the wind blew stronger, and it sent a chill down his spine like nothing else could. If he had been unsure about his daughter’s words before, this confirmed it. His son, who had been working in the fields, met him just outside the door, a deeply concerned look on the no-il’s[1] young features.

“Take care of your sister, Nit. Keep the door barred, and don’t let anyone in. You know our password.”

His son nodded in mute understanding, and Dava saw his own terror reflected in the boy’s eyes.

“You are strong, Nit.” Dava squeezed his son’s shoulder. “You are now a no-a[2].”

Nit’s eyes widened. He was seventeen, and no one became a no-a until their twentieth year. But his father had just said—

“Go now, Nita. Protect your sister. I will bring your mother back. I will bring her back. I promise.”

Dava turned quickly and headed towards the barn, shielding his weathered face from the wind with his arm. Briefly, he glanced at the sky. What had previously been dawn was now black and threatening. Ominous clouds blotted out the sun and sky, and the very air felt oppressing. Turning away from the developing horror, the farmer continued walking against the wind.

Once inside the barn, he rushed to the end of the building where the two hyshum they owned snorted and reared. Their long, pointed ears were pinned tightly back in terror. Stamping and pawing the ground with their spiked hooves, they’d scored the packed earth in their fright.

Ignoring them for the moment, Dava grabbed his cythum — a scythe-like farmer’s sword — from its rack. He fumbled with the straps for a few seconds before properly securing the weapon around his waist. Then, grabbing a mount-chair, he entered the stall of Glamstra, his hyshum. A few minutes later, Dava pounded out of the stable and sped down the road his wife had so recently traveled.

He cursed himself for letting Mara go out on her own. He should have at least sent Nit along with her. That would have lent him some degree of comfort. Now his wife was probably stranded halfway between Rhyden and their house, which would place her— Dava did not even want to consider it.

The wind grew stronger as Dava rode, blowing straight into his face now. He gritted his teeth and urged Glamstra on. Snorting, the black hyshum lowered her head and galloped onward, partially due to Dava’s urging, but mostly because something in her basest of instincts was telling her to run, and to run fast.

Nobody knew exactly what the North wind brought, but as far as recorded history was concerned, it had always left death and destruction in its wake. It was said among the Enomatics that it blew only when man had changed destiny. Dava did not really understand the full purport of that, but he did know that he was doing his best to change his destiny. He simply could not lose Mara; he couldn’t.

She was everything to him. They had lived on neighboring farms when both were only children. Naturally they had spent countless hours together, exploring nature. He could still remember the first and last time he took her to the bogwood, where he’d meant to show her a daggerfrog. Instead a crocodid had bitten him in the arm and nearly killed her.

Without his bidding, Dava’s mind started recalling their happiest moments together. He remembered her joy when they’d finally had a second child, and how elated she’d been that it was a no-el[3] after they’d had a no-il, Nit. Tradition among the Vith dictated that having both a no-il and a no-el was the best of fortune. He recalled his pride at their firstborn, who crawled earlier than any child he’d heard of. His mind traveled back further to their wedding, and he recalled how beautiful she had looked, smiling at him, waiting for him to tie the knot that symbolized their union.

“Cast it all to Sha,” he swore, watering at the corners of his eyes. “If I don’t get you back, Mara—”

He never had a chance to finish his sentence. Shadows moved on either side of him, and Glamstra, spooked, put on a sudden burst of speed. Dava ducked quickly against the hyshum’s neck, doing his best to avoid sweeping branches which reached out to cast him from his mount.

For a brief second, he looked over the head of his hyshum, seeking to see what was ahead. That was his undoing, as a stout branch of a Vethilwood tree struck him on the forehead and sent him flying back off Glamstra. She continued galloping off into the night without him.

Still seeing stars from the impact, Dava heard the hoof beats abruptly cease, and then he heard the hyshum screaming. It was a sound that chilled the deepest part of his soul, and he felt his inner fire flickering. Turning back, he stumbled, trying to flee whatever fate his mount had met.

The wind picked up, throwing Dava off balance as a flurry of leaves and other debris rushed pass him. He fell to the ground, the shock adding to his hazy vision. Instead of getting back on his feet, Dava crawled desperately, knowing that something in the blackness followed.

When eventually he could crawl no more, Dava reached for his cythum and drew it awkwardly. The darkness around him morphed and shaped itself into shifting shadows, which he swung his blade at wildly. They did not seem the least disturbed by his desperate antics.

Dava wanted to scream, but could not. The shadows tightened their circle, and his cythum turned to dust, carried away by the wind. In abject horror, he stared as the shadows morphed and shifted, never one shape, but instead all geometries simultaneously. They neither flew, nor walked, but moved, and as they closed in, Dava felt his fire being smothered, as if a great pressure was being applied on his soul. The next instant, he was dead.

Back in the house, Nita held his sister close while she trembled. He’d done his best to board up the windows after barricading the door, but the sheer fury of the wind forced its way through the smallest chinks and cracks, causing the light from the flameglobe to swirl threateningly.

Nita could see the wind draining the illumination from the flameglobe, and instinct told him he could not let the light out; or maybe it was just because he feared the dark. Regardless, the boy repositioned himself with his back towards the wind, trying to shield their light as best as he could.

A sudden gust of wind sent him flying, and the siblings landed in an awkward heap on the floor. Vir started bawling. Nita knew he had to help his sister, but the breath had been knocked out of him, and he did not have the strength to move.

Another gust of wind buffeted the house, and in an adjoining room, dishes crashed to the floor while cupboards toppled. Hanging ornaments went flying and smashed into the wall like so many arrow.

In the wake of that second blast, Nita knew he had to do something to protect his sister. Gathering his wits and strength, he rolled over her sobbing form, using his body as a shield. When the next blast hit, he closed his mind from the sensations of pain as wooden shutters splintered and broke, their pieces striking his exposed back.

Each buffet grew worse as more of the house fell to pieces. Despite his best efforts, the constant blows to his body and his inability to draw a full breath in the fast-moving air left Nita feeling drained, weak, and barely awake.

For half an hour he managed to battle the imposing darkness which wished to cloud his mind. But, as the wind continued to blow, and the buffets to his small frame refused to desist, Nita slowly began to drift. When the large piece of hardwood hit him on the head, he had already lost consciousness.

[1] An immature boy in Vith culture

[2] An adult in Vith culture

[3] A young girl in Vith culture

Tours Yruly

Taker VIII – Caravan


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I know, they’re camels, not horses. Same diff. =P

I’m really excited about where this story’s headed. It’s getting to the point which I’ve had planned out for a long time, and I think it’s gonna be good. Just you guys wait and see. I bet you’ll enjoy it. Regardless, this was a chapter I’d actually written right after seven, but I only just got around to editing it. Enjoy. 🙂

Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | ToC

Grommel, lead guard, eyed the horizon uneasily. He had a bad feeling in his gut, and the last time he’d felt like this, he’d lost three fingers and an eye. His horse sensed its master’s discomfort and shifted hesitantly.

“Aaht issit?” Navar, one of the merchants in the caravan, asked, pulling up beside the soldier.

It had taken Grommel a full week to get used to Navar’s slurred sibilants and his disturbing lack of lips, but the soldier answered fairly readily now. “Just a bad feeling, probably nothing.”

“You don’t think issnothing.”

Navar’s uncanny intuition, that Grommel had not grown accustomed to. For a while, the two men sat in silence, both peering out at the distant line where earth met sky. Then, he saw it: a threatening cloud of dust on the horizon.

Navar apparently saw it too because he drew his wickedly curved sword.

“Stop the caravan!” Grommel yelled over his shoulder. “Defensive formation! Bandits are coming!”

There was a brief moment of chaos at this information, but all the merchants in the caravan were veterans — Grommel had made sure of that — and it didn’t take them long to follow his orders.

“How many are there?” Maville, one of the “over-weights” as Gromel termed them, puffed as he rode up.

“More than enough,” Grommel said grimly, eyeing the dust cloud which had tripled in size.

“Oh dear,” Maville said, then he turned to Navar. “Put that thing away. It makes me nervous.”

Navar and Maville fitted with each other as well as a knife under fingernails. The two had rubbed against each other the entire journey, and now was no exception.

Navar turned to look at Maville, and Grommel had the disturbing impression that the lipless merchant was smiling. “Noh.”

Grommel cut in before Maville could splutter back. “We don’t have time for this. We have a hundred soldiers in our caravan, and there are at least three hundred bandits out there. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, but judging by our location, these are no common bandits. Likely as not, they’re led by the famed Ta’vich, and he has defeated guard forces twice our size.”

Maville went pale, and Grommel decided that Navar must have stopped smiling as he gave his sword a few practice swings. Something Grommel had carefully omitted in his brief biography of Ta’vich was that most of what he said came from personal experience. He’d led one of the guard forces he spoke of in his early caravan guarding days, and his missing fingers now adorned the necklace the bandit king wore.

The guard drew his sword and flicked it experimentally. Maville wordlessly slunk into cover, and the rest of Grommel’s team filled the gaps. Grommel eyed his men. He could see the fear in their faces; he could even feel it in the air, but he knew none of them would abandon him. To most, the situation would have appeared hopeless, but Grommel had a trick up his sleeve: Each of his men was a well-trained archer and could put an arrow into a man at forty cords.

“Steady men!” Grommel called out with confidence he didn’t feel. Someone told him a long time ago that kissing one’s sword granted good luck.

“Nock arrows!” It was just silly superstition.

“Take aim!” Had to be.

Grommel glanced quickly at his men. They were all focused on the enemy, beads of perspiration dripping from their faces. He kissed his sword. “Fire!”

A hundred arrows flew into the air, straight and true, before turning and flying down into the dust cloud. Cries of pain and confusion echoed across the flatlands. For a moment, Grommel celebrated; it would only take a few more rounds like those to rout the bandits. But his was only a brief moment. Then the counter volley came.

Grommel instinctively ducked as artificial screams spread through the air. If there had been any doubt before, there was none now. Only Ta’vich had his archers make arrows that screamed as they flew. “Screamers,” the men had called them. Seconds later, real screams replaced the artificial ones as men went down all around Grommel. Navar fell off his horse beside Grommel, an arrow having knocked out his teeth and penetrated his throat.

“Fire at will!” Grommel shouted, desperately hoping there were still men left to fire.

He heard galloping. No doubt the merchants had decided to run. But it is only one horse, Grommel’s ears told him, And it’s coming towards you. Grommel looked back over his shoulder in time to see a cloaked man gallop past him on a black horse.

Ryke rode straight at the dust cloud that was the bandits. He was counting the beat of his horse’s gallop. One. The bandits would have heard the horse. Two. They’d seen him. Three. He imagined them drawing their bows. Four. They were taking aim. Five.

Ryke stood in the saddle and flipped off backwards, letting the horse continue its course. Just as he did, a volley of arrows whizzed through the air above his head. He swung the shield from his back and started counting his breaths. One. The archers nocked more arrows. Two. Ryke started running. Three. They drew their bows. Four. He felt their eyes on him. Five.

He brought the shield up in front of his face as a dozen arrows thudded into it. Swinging his arm, he tossed the shield off to his left. Still running, Ryke drew his swords before disappearing into the dust.

Grommel sat there stunned as he watched a lone man cross the battlefield and disappear into the enemy. When he heard the screams and shouts of what was definitely more than one man, he came to his senses.

“Charge!”

What remained of his unit galloped forward into the dust to help their mysterious savior.

***

“You have to tell me where he went.”

“Like I said, he returned to the city after staying the night here.”

“And I’m telling you that he can’t have done that.”

Kyr-lya sat up groggily in an unfamiliar bed. The cracked floorboards continued to leak the argument taking place below her.

“There was only one man who came here last night, and after he dropped off a girl, he went back to the city.”

“I just told you, old man. He did not go back to the— Wait. What girl?”

Kyr-lya stepped into the barroom. A tall, red-haired woman stood, arguing with a man whose beard looked longer than his lifespan.

Ignoring the woman, who carried a crossbow on her back and a pair of daggers in her belt, Kyr-lya faced the man.

“Are you the keeper of this establishment?”

“That I am.”

“What happened to the man who brought me in?”

“Like I’ve been explaining to this lady over here, he went back to the city.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” Kyr-lya said. “He seemed bent on going away from the city the last I remember”

“By Kar!” the old man shouted, losing his temper. He raised his hand, palm out, and his eyes flashed purple. In a rising crescendo, he spoke, “Tova su liet ha no liet su tova ha no su liet tova ha no!”

The doors flew open behind the two women and they were sent flying out onto the road. Kyr-lya, still catching her breath, watched as the red-haired Human stood up with a grim look on her face.

“You made a very bad mistake, old man,” the woman said, as she stalked back into the inn, knife in hand.

“What are you doing?” Kyr-lya managed to say.

The woman stood over the innkeeper who had fallen back in a chair from the mental exertion. She looked at Kyr-lya. “Ridding the world of evil.”

The Ash girl watched in horror as the woman slashed with her knife and an all-too-familiar red line appeared across the old man’s throat.

***

“So, where are you headed?” Grommel asked, turning a spit.

Everyone around the campfire looked expectantly at Ryke as he sharpened his sword. “That’s my business.”

There was a moment of silence as Grommel continued to turn the spit. “Fair enough. Regardless, after what you did today, you’re welcome to ride with us.”

Ryke looked up from his work. “Thank you.”

“I disagree, captain,” Maville interrupted. “This man is a killer, and he has the evil eye I tell you. He won’t have any problems alone in the desert.”

Grommel looked at Maville wearily. “And what if the “killer” decides that leaving him alone in the desert displays conduct equal to that of the bandits he killed?”

Maville’s eyes went wide and he gulped.

“Here,” Grommel handed Ryke a slice of the meat, before picking up a bottle of alcohol. “To our rescuer.”

“To our rescuer,” everyone repeated.

Ryke studied Grommel carefully as the soldier gulped down his drink. The man was burly with the extra pounds that came from caravan duty, but he could hold his own in a fight. Tattoos decorated his thick upper arms, and his hair hung in a black braid down between his shoulder blades. His left hand was missing three fingers, and an eyepatch covered his right eye.

“You’re a captain?” Ryke asked.

“Former military,” Grommel said, mouth full of meat. “I fought in the Great War. Near the end of it though. Bad times all round. It was mostly butchering and clean-up at that point. I got lucky and was assigned to guarding an outpost. Fended off an attack from a band of Aelves big enough to promote me from sergeant to captain. What about you? What’s your story?”

“I’m a nobody.”

“Some kind of nobody,” Grommel snorted. “You killed at least ten of them back there. A person like you isn’t nobody.”

“What do you think a person like me is, then?”

Grommel quieted down and looked inquisitively at Ryke. “Well, you’re no stranger to killing. You’re also no stranger to battlefield and guerilla tactics too, what with the way you approached those bandits. I’d say you’re a military man too, and you must’ve been in leadership like me. I’d say the only difference between you and me is that you’re from a special squad of some kind. Elite forces, assassin corps, something like that.”

Ryke was silent.

“Well, how close was I?” Grommel demanded, stuffing his mouth again.

“Pretty close I think. Pretty close indeed.”

Tours yruly

Taker VI – Failed Attempt


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Now, if I could paint this well, I would do my own art =P

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get this chapter out. You know when you hit one of those rough spots in your writing where you know what you have to write and you know what you want to write but you don’t really feel like it because you have other things you want to do? Well, that happened to me, thus the delay on this chapter. But it’s here now, so, enjoy. 🙂

Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |  ToC

“So, I heard you’re pretty tough,” a large, muscular Aelve spat, slamming his fist down on the table.

The person he was speaking to, an unshaven Human, looked up blankly, then glanced around. No one even turned.

“You beat up some of the people in my gang a couple of dawnbreaks ago. Want to explain?”

The man rubbed the stubble on his chin, then shrugged his shoulders mildly. The Aelve stared in disbelief for a moment.

“You do not shrug your shoulders at me, Human. I’m Ta’vich, King of the Streets.”

Ta’vich waited expectantly for the customary look of fear. His addressee just gave him another blank stare.

“Alright, I’m done.” The gang leader picked up the table between them and flipped it towards the man. Before he could react, Ta’vich lunged forward, his fist coming into contact with the man’s jaw.

One punch sufficed to knock his opponent out, and Ta’vich stepped back, satisfaction on his face. “That’ll teach you to shrug your shoulders at me, Human.”

When he turned around and left, the Human opened his eyes and stood up, righting the table. He called for another drink and rubbed his jaw gently. Moments later, the barkeep hurried over with a frothing mug in hand.

“You should have beat him up, Asanthe. Now he will grow more arrogant. And he is a coward. One blow from you would have had him running,” the barkeep said quietly.

“‘Better an arrogant coward than a vengeful one.’ Philosopher Kylh, 601 A.E.” Asanthe took a swig of his drink. “Such words are not mere dribble, Clara. Where is your sister tonight?”

“You can tell?” Suddenly the barkeep became very shy.

Asanthe sipped his drink again.

“How can you tell?”

He grabbed her hand. “You wear a ring. It is so important to you that you wear it all the time, except for when you fill in for your sister. It leaves a distinct mark on your fingers. Your nails are not chipped and broken from years of manning the bar and dealing with unpleasant patrons. You may be twins, but you have a slimmer frame, and that outfit does not fit you as well as it fits Tara. And finally, unlike her, you have a decided predisposition to hang off every word I say.”

She stared at him, then hurried away to serve another customer. He sipped at his drink and let the bitter taste bite at his tongue and the sides of his mouth. Everybody reacted like that. Even in this modern era, knowing too much got you shunned and rejected by others. Still, better he remain rejected and unknown than his secret come to light. Already there were people who suspected him of being more than he claimed to be, and his claim was no light one at that.

Asanthe, wandering scholar and philosopher, studier of the arts and teachings of philosophers before him, that was what people knew him as. If they knew that he was really the last remaining shy-gyth — swordmaster — and the creator of the fifteenth sword art: sym-myth, there’s no telling how many he might have to kill to keep his secret safe; the last thing he wanted to do was kill more.

***

“It’s very rare that you come to see me, mother,” a tall, lanky man said placidly, addressing the hooded woman behind him.

“I need your help,” his mother replied.

“Another rare occurrence.” The man spoke in clipped tones. “Who is it this time?”

“You know who. He’s back.”

This elicited a reaction; his whole frame went taut. “Not even your best Purists can handle him.”

The Headmistress sighed. Her son had many faults, one of them being his insatiable desire to feel needed. She supposed that in part it had to do with the rough upbringing he had underwent. He had essentially been left in a state of total neglect for the entirety of his younger years. How she — who had willingly given her sickly son to the scientists to mutate — had become leader of an organization devoted to wiping out mutants from Cheridith was beyond her. Life certainly had its ironies.

She reached out and grabbed his arm, an unusual sign of affection from her. “Son, be careful. He was the best they made.”

He gave his mother a funny look of disbelief. “And you would mourn, if I died?” The laugh he let out was all air and no mirth. “Would you not instead rejoice that you wouldn’t have to send your Purists after me?”

She pursed her lips, then turned abruptly and left. He stood silently, brooding, watching her as she strode proudly away out of the small hut he lived in. He shook his head. She was the only person in his life who could exact any emotion from him, and he wasn’t sure if he hated or loved her.

***

The sun had sunk low by the time Ryke reentered the city. Most people had vacated the streets, and his footsteps echoed hollowly on the cobblestone. Except it wasn’t an echo. Someone was following him. He rounded a corner quickly then flattened himself against the wall of a hut. His shadow’s footsteps stopped, and he peered around the corner to see a cloaked figure hovering uncertainly.

Before he could do anything, the figure hissed, “Duck!”

Instinctively, he dropped. A crossbow bolt bounced off the brick wall, exactly where his head had been. He straightened and quickly scanned the area. Two cloaked figures now ran off in opposite directions. For a moment, uncertainty took the reins, then he threw caution to the wind and ran off after one of them.

Energy coursed through Ryke as he sped after his quarry, his speed giving him an edge. Aylya cast a quick glance over her shoulder and cursed when she realized Ryke was catching up. She could still stay ahead, though, just not by running in a straight line.

Without warning, she ducked around a corner into a side alley. Her pursuer had to slow somewhat before making the turn, giving her a few extra cords. It was all she needed. Springing into the air, she gripped a rafter tightly and pulled herself up. The muscle-up took longer than she’d thought— curse the newfangled heavy crossbows.

Ryke managed to catch up to her as she ascended. He jumped up and grabbed blindly, his fingers catching tightly on to fabric. It was her cloak, and it came tumbling down on his face as the clasp for it broke. He caught sight of a flash of red hair before his quarry disappeared across the rooftop. For a few minutes, he considered climbing up after her, but it would have been futile. Wrapping the cloak around his arm, he made his way back to the inn.

Tours yruly