VI – Masked Man [Eternity: P1]


Sketch of the Man in the Mask

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

Varyn woke up. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, despite the copious amounts of Netherfel he had been consuming to keep himself in a state of slumber. The rough pallet he lay on scratched his back, and he shifted uncomfortably. Blindly, he reached for the bottle that he usually kept beside his bed. It was not there.

“Looking for your drugs, you filthy addict?” a voice snarled. “Well, you won’t need them anymore. I’m here to put you out of your misery.”

With his eyes still closed, Varyn listened as a figure in loose clothing moved quietly towards him. A quiet swish alerted the prone man to the assassin’s downward strike. However, before the blade had a chance to hit, Varyn struck out and up with a sharp, short strike.

There was silence as the killer dropped his sword into the sand beside Varyn, then the man groaned in pain. Sitting up in bed, Varyn ran his fingers through his hair and eyed his attacker, who still clutched his groin. In a smooth motion, Varyn pulled the sword out of the ground and ran the assassin through.

The man gasped, feeling the life drain from his body. He choked, staring at the masked face of his killer. “You— the Netherfel. It weakens—”

“Netherfel kills most people,” Varyn growled. “It just gives me a headache.”

He shoved the impaled man out of the tent and waited for a few seconds. His hypersensitive ears detected the stealthy approach of at least two people. The footsteps stopped for a second, then Varyn heard the men drag their comrade away into the night.

Sighing, Varyn threw himself back on his pallet and stared at the worn cloth that was his tent. He counted all the different colored patches sewn into the fabric. Twenty-eight. One less than the number of people who had tried to assassinate him, and a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people he had killed.

Why did they have to keep waking him up? He just wanted to sleep. Sleep was the last solace he had. Deciding not to go crazy from the nightmares was something he’d done a long time ago. How many years had it been? Three? Four? Five? How long had it been since he was last awake?

Varyn stuck his head out of the tent and looked at the sky. Two brightmoons. He’d been asleep two brightmoons. That was half of what he’d intended to sleep away. The Netherfel was losing its potency. The time he dreaded had come; he would have to go into town.

Silently, he sat up and spent a moment rubbing his head. He had not lied to the man about the headaches; they felt terrible, like someone hammering a wedge into his skull. Varyn knew what a wedge hammered into the tender places between his fingers felt like, so he’d extrapolated that to his skull. Regardless of its realism, the analogy fit the pain quite well, and Varyn remained seated, rubbing his temple longer than he should have.

When he finally stepped out of the tent, the sun was just starting to rise. Its warmth tingled on his skin, filling him with power, vitality. He rejected those feelings and cast them into the tent which collapsed as if a gale had hit it from all sides. Squatting down, Varyn collected the pieces quickly and efficiently, tying them together in a large bundle. Time once again, stood against him. He would have to hurry into town before the sun rose any further.

Slinging the tent onto his back, Varyn started towards the town, but a glint from the sand caught his eye. He looked down. The sword lay there, smears of blood still covering its length. Bending, Varyn picked it up.

The blade was crudely made. Cheaply forged steel, with no craftsmanship whatsoever. Whoever sent these men after him had started slacking. Something about the pommel caught Varyn’s eye though. Someone had melted a strange metal symbol to it. The symbol was obviously not part of the original design — it was made of high quality siril[1] instead of steel. Varyn’s mind raced through all the glyphs he knew, which were three. None of them matched what he saw.

Shrugging, Varyn slid the sword in with the tent poles and started the long run back into town. The landscape he ran through was hot and dry. Dust rose in clouds behind him, but he paid them no heed. His only concern was to reach town before the sun fully surmounted the horizon. Already he could feel the power from its rays seeping into his body — a power he did not want.

Every time he felt the littlest well of heat build, Varyn cast it out of his body, using it to speed himself along. He needed to run. Faster, faster, faster. The desert sun grew hotter as an hour passed. Why had he come to the desert again? You had nowhere else to go, a small voice told him.

He could see it in the distance, the town. The sight of the clay huts allowed him to accurately gauge the distance he had left to run, and he increased his pace accordingly, no longer needing to keep a reserve of strength.

Two hours after starting his run, Varyn arrived in the small Mobek town known as Erithilililu. Two years ago, the quiet villagers would have stared at the dust-covered mask-wearing man running in from the Lethiluli (doomed place), but the sight of this strange person had become a normality, and the most attention they paid to him was a short glance, as if to see if he had changed any.

Varyn slowed shortened his stride as he arrived at the town, but did not slow his steps. He sped around corners and ducked through alleyways until he arrived at the small trade store owned by Hassanali, a gangly man missing two teeth and most of his hair.

“Hassanali?” Varyn said as he stepped past the curtain door.

Nobody responded. Varyn repeated his question, but once again did not get an answer. Unstrapping his tent from his back, the man placed his burden on the brick counter in the middle of the hut and looked around. The tradesman had not changed much of anything since Varyn had last been around. The store looked a little cleaner here and there, but that was nothing to be suspicious of. So why did he feel so suspicious?

Because there’s somebody hiding behind the counter, the small voice whispered before he could hush it. Slowly, Varyn turned to face the door, his back to the counter, as if he was peering out the window. He heard the breathing of whoever hid behind the counter tighten as she slowly rose up behind him. For some reason, Varyn had always been more attuned to the sounds women made; in his line of work, this distinction had not proved very useful, but it certainly had its benefits now.

“Who are you?”

So she was a young woman.

“I said, who are you?”

An inexperienced young woman.

“I have an arrow pointed right at your back. I could kill you right—”

“My name is Varyn. Where is Hassanali?”

“I was hoping you could answer that question.”

Varyn detected a slight tremor with the you. Was she scared of him?

“I haven’t been here for over eight brightmoons. Now I ask you again, where is Hassanali?”

There was silence. Eventually the girl spoke. “He’s dead, and I believe you are in on it. The men who did the deed spoke of a masked man.”

So it was those bastards. Varyn sighed. Another body to add to the bucket.

“Listen, kid. I don’t know who you are, or why you think you could possibly kill me with your silly little bow, but I was here to buy drugs from Hassanali, and if he is no longer alive, then I no longer have any business here. So if you will let me reclaim my belongings, I would like to leave.”

Silence, again.

“Girl?”

“How do you know the language so well?”

“What?”

“Mobebekek. You speak it like a native.”

Varyn sighed again. “I know a lot of things. Now if you will allow me—” he turned around, just as his ears detected the sliding of a taught cord from hooked fingers. In an instant, his hand snapped out, and he caught the deadly projectile before it had a chance to embed itself in the wall.

He stared at the girl, accusation written all over his face.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, face red. “My fingers slipped.”


[1] A high quality metal, much like a tungsten-steel alloy

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I – A Northwind Blows [Eternity: P1]


lightning-storm-400x300

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

“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

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