XI – The Battlefront


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

“How go your preparations?” Tovorash said to the gang leader.

“The wall is coming along nicely, Master, but we will need a few more days at the very least. Our men our tired, and the mortar does not dry quickly enough. If the flamewarden was here to help us…”

“You’ve told me that before, Geof, but Marthulus cannot just run around at the whim of gang workers to help them dry their mortar. A few days is not good enough. The Vith will troops will arrive before then. Will you be able to go faster if I leant you some of my soldiers?”

The gang leader seemed to take offense. “My men are the best, Master. Your soldiers would merely get in the way. If a few days is not satisfying to you, I’m afraid there is not much more we can do.”

Tovorash sighed. Since the war, he’d had to leave his position as bodyguard to the Everking and return to his own lands which were at the border of the kingdom. How had the blasted Flamelord of Vithr known to attack them at this time? He had no intel on their weaknesses, yet he always seemed to know where they were. There had to be someone on the inside feeding him information, but Tovorash could not imagine how costly it would be to try to find said person.

The knight-guardian still did not understand what had happened in Vithr. It had just all come so quickly. The succession, the growing tensions, then suddenly the announcement that the Asythians were suspected of having sent the assassin in the first place?

“Master?” the gang leader interrupted Tovorash’s thoughts. “Are you done with me? I have a wall to build.”

“Yes, yes,” Tovorash waved tiredly. “Do your best. If it comes down to it, I will have my men try to distract the Vith advance.”

“As you say, Master,” the gang leader said, bowing and exiting the war-tent.

As the man left, a woman, a straight stick in her hand, entered, tapping the ground in front of her. For a moment, Tovorash was surprised at her strange behavior, but when he looked at her face and saw her eyes, everything was clarified.

“What do you want—”

“Evermistress,” she offered with a slight smile.

“Pardon me,” Tovorash said, getting to his feet and touching each of his shoulders in respect. He instantly felt ridiculous doing so, realizing she could not see it.

“Sit back down, Tovorash,” the strange woman said with familiarity.

The knight-guardian did as he was told, but studied her face in the meantime. Despite her disability, she was quite striking, and her features carried with them a sharp beauty.

“What is the purpose of your visit, Evermistress? I don’t recall being notified that someone of your rank would be arriving. As I’m sure you are well aware, Vith troops are nearly upon us.”

“There are few that know of my visit, Tovorash,” she said, seating herself as well. How did she know there was a chair there? “And you are correct in assuming my knowledge of your predicament. I am here to offer you my assistance.”

Internally, Tovorash groaned. Another courtier believing they could help him with their political intrigue.

“I’m sorry, Evermistress, but unless you can conjure up more gang workers for me, I am afraid there is not much you can do to help.”

She smiled and leaned back in her chair. “You judge me by my title and by the fact that I cannot see. But let me tell you, Tovorash, that this blind woman can see better than you can.”

Tovorash groaned internally again. A crazy courtier.

“I am sure you have the best intentions, Evermistress, but as I said before, we need more manpower. I don’t think I understand what you mean by seeing.”

“How do the Vith know where to attack? How do they know where our weaknesses are?”

“There must be an informant or a spy, no doubt.”

“And this informant is giving their armies sight, albeit a different kind of sight, but sight nonetheless.”

“Are you offering me spies?” Tovorash exclaimed in disgust, rising to his feet. “There is no honor in underhanded means and deceit.”

“No. I am offering you sight,” the woman said quietly. “Sit back down.”

Instantly realizing his mistake, the knight-guardian quelled his outburst and sat back down. “I thank you for your offer, Evermistress, but I must decline.”

“As you say, Tovorash, but I will tell you this: The commander of the approaching Vith army keeps his palanquin in the rear right corner of his army. Cut off the head of the serpent, and the body will writhe around helplessly.”

Rising, the woman turned, her intricately tied hair cascading over her shoulders, and left, her guide stick tapping gently on the ground.

Tovorash sat back in his chair, silently brooding. Whoever she was, she had intelligence and was not some simple courtier. This concerned him. The stupid ones he could deal with, but he was not a man given to political intrigue and subterfuge. If he got on the wrong side of someone like her… he feared the worst.

She had given him valuable information, even though he hadn’t asked for it. The rear right corner of his army…. It wouldn’t be difficult to send a band of his best-trained men around to flank them and capture their commander. That would throw the rest of their army into chaos, which might force a retreat.

It was decided. He summoned his elite captain and informed him of the new plan. The man listened quietly and nodded, before making a few suggestions, which Tovorash took into account. He may have been the leader, but this captain had a certain knack for strategy that sometimes left Tovorash feeling dumb.

The battle went exactly as planned. The Vith army broke the instant their commander went down, and Tovorash had the satisfaction of watching his own men stand firm and advance in an orderly manner that left nothing wanting.

It wasn’t until he had returned to his tent that Tovorash realized he would have to thank the courtier who had given him the information. He sighed. It still rubbed against his honor slightly that he had used information that she had most likely gained through undercover means. The knight-guardian was honorable to a fault, and he could not imagine stooping low enough to send out spies.

With a grunt, Tovorash stood up, grabbed his battle hammer, and headed outside. Asking for directions turned out to be fruitless, as few had taken notice of the humble-looking blind woman and her small retinue when they entered the camp. After almost an hour of searching, Tovorash finally found something of note. The courtier had been seen just on the east fringe of the camp earlier that day.

When Tovorash arrived, the watch told him that she had spent some time moving back and forth along the east side, as if looking for something, but had then abruptly turned and left when their battle had started. They informed him that she had headed to the nearest town, which was an hour-long walk across the border into Vithr.

At this point, Tovorash considered giving up. She probably didn’t even care whether or not the battle had gone well, and if he told her that her information had helped, he would most likely have to fight her again over not accepting her league of spies. Beyond that, she seemed like a crazy courtier anyway. Regardless of whether or not she had appeared intelligent before, Tovorash had never met someone of her rank who walked everywhere. Beyond that she had spent the afternoon pacing outside of his camp?

But honor eventually won Tovorash over, and telling his men to continue keeping a sharp watch, the knight-guardian headed out towards the town.

The sun had fallen low on the horizon by the time he arrived. Dirty-faced children fled as Tovorash walked boldly into the town. He knew there would be no garrison here after the battle that had just transpired. Farmers stared grimly at the knight-guardian who did his best to ignore the attention while also trying to find the woman he’d come to find.

In the end, she found him.

“I thought you might follow me, Tovorash,” a strong, clear voice rang out from behind him.

He turned, surprised that she’d snuck up on him.

“I came to offer you my thanks for your assistance. The battle went smoothly due to your information.”

“Sight, Tovorash. It was sight.” She smiled.

Before the situation had a chance to become awkward, both Tovorash and the strange woman sensed a shift in the air, and they tensed. In the tense seconds that followed, Tovorash scanned their surroundings, taking in any possible hiding places.

There was a tall bush nearby that offered substantial cover for potential attackers. The corner of a cottage six cords away could hide four or five men. Tovorash glanced briefly at the gap between a nearby tree and the cottage, but looked past it, telling himself that it was too open for attack.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, a shadow moved. He turned, instinctively raising his hammer. There was a clang of metal on metal as he blocked the attack, but he saw no one. He groaned.

Of course the attacker had to be invisible.

Tours yruly

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VII – The Enigmatic Enomatic [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Everybody in the courtroom murmured and whispered excitedly. Tovorash did not really understand what the fuss was about. Sure, an Enomatic had not been summoned by the Everking for over seven hundred years, but that was no cause for such an uproar. Even the king himself seemed a little annoyed at the fuss that everyone was making.

As if they had all come to some agreement beforehand, everybody fell silent as the large doors swung open. In, first, came the messenger. Tovorash recognized her instantly as Evelle. He did not know everybody by name, but female couriers were few and far between, and she had caught his eye a long time ago due to her unwavering dedication to her task and her straightforward loyalty.

Following the messenger, in simple robes, was the Enomatic. For some reason, he did not ring rightly with Tovorash’s impression of these recluses. Rather than bearing the haughty soberness that one would have expected, this Enomatic seemed to carry with him an air of mischief, and despite the simple garb, he strode with the bearing of a king.

Evelle moved forward quickly, as the cleric paused, waiting for her to announce him. Bowing deeply before the Everking, Evelle waited for his permission to speak.

When he nodded, she stood and proclaimed, “Your Everness and your Dawnesses, I present the Enomatic.”

She moved aside as the cloaked man stepped forward. He threw back his hood, and Tovorash caught a glint in the man’s eye that spoke of a sly intelligence. The Enomatic bowed deeply, but when he righted himself and looked the Everking directly in the eye, Tovorash could not decide if he was bold or stupid.

“What is your name, priest?” the Everking asked.

“Time, your Everness. Justin Time, and just in time, as I have heard.”

There was an awkward pause, before the Everking spoke again. “You know why you are here, I assume?”

“I am here because the Everking wished for an Enomatic, and as I was the only Enomatic available, I have come.”

“But you know of— the incident?”

“Yes, of course. The terrible apparition in the court that everyone hears rumors about, made even more notorious by the flamewarden’s inability to pronounce anything definitive about it.”

This comment sent murmurs through the crowd, and Tovorash could almost feel the tension on his weathered skin.

“Well, smart-mouthed Justin. Why don’t you see if you can tell us anything about the situation.”

“As you wish, your Everness,” the Enomatic said, bowing deeply. “I shall need to talk with anyone present during the incident, but most importantly I will need to talk with your bodyguard.”

Tovorash did not like that one bit. Things had been unsettled enough of late without him having to leave the king for an interview that could take hours, but when the Everking nodded and motioned Tovorash to follow the Enomatic, the bodyguard had no choice.

As the two men left the courtroom, Justin said, “Don’t worry, I will not take much of your time from your precious Everking.”

“He is your king too,” Tovorash said hotly, drawing some attention.

“The Enomatics serve no one,” Justin declared serenely.

The bodyguard grunted disdainfully. “Some Enomatic you are. I heard that you monks are supposed to be meek and submissive.”

“And I heard that you bodyguards are supposed to be discrete and self-controlled.”

This silenced Tovorash, but as they continued walking with Justin showing no signs of asking questions, the bodyguard found himself forced to speak again.

“You said you would not take up much of my time?”

Instead of answering the question, the Enomatic pointed at the sun. “The wanderer Shustyn once said, ‘Time is an illusion, a figment of our minds created to understand change, because we cannot conceive of change without time.’ His friend then pointed to the sun and replied, ‘You say that, but I see for myself that the sun moves.’ Who do you think was right?”

The knight-guardian was about to reply irritably, but the Enomatic held up his hand. “Please, humor me.”

Tovorash paused for a moment to think. He didn’t know why he did so. Maybe it was because the Everking’s recent philosophical reflections had grown on him. When he answered, though, he surprised even himself.

“I don’t think either of them were right. Time is not an illusion, but the sun’s motion was not proof that there is time. There are things that supersede time, however. Great works of writing for example; we call them timeless.”

Justin looked at the bodyguard expectantly. For a second, Tovorash was confused. Then it clicked.

“Timeless! The timeless! Wait. You’re saying that books are what that message was about?”

The Enomatic rolled his eyes. “No, of course not. But it is about something that is beyond time. Whatever ‘the timeless’ is, it is beyond our human parameters. And that is very concerning.”

Tovorash’s expression tightened. “And the messenger said that they were returning, which means they’ve been here before.”

“Excellent!” Justin said applaudingly. “We will make a detective out of you yet.”

The bodyguard just glared.

Tours yruly

V – Investigative Techniques [Eternity: P1]


Magnifying Glass

TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Drrring… Drrring… Drrring…

“Shut up you Sha-bound thing,” Botha cursed, still half asleep.

His hand flopped around the table beside his bed like a fish on land as he sought the lever that would silence his latest contraption. Upon realizing that aimless pounding of his nightstand would not suffice, the inventor and investigator peeled open an eye. He located the lever, promptly depressed it with his piscine hand, and fell back into a deep slumber.

No more than five minutes later, a loud pounding on his door shook him once again from his sleep. Grumbling, the bulky man sat himself up in bed, smacked his head against the bucket that for some Flameforsaken reason he had hung there, and threw open the blinds which his alarm contraption had once again failed to open.

The sunlight was enough to startle him awake. Botha dropped himself out of bed and made his way to the door. He paused briefly to see if his alarm had at least prepared breakfast, but the pounding on his door resumed, startling him from that task. Muttering under his breath about impatience, Botha made his way to the door, unfastened the half-dozen locks he’d created himself, and swung it wide open.

“What in the name of Sha are you—” Botha paused, recognizing the man at his door. “My apologies, Flamewarden Hein. In this bright sunlight I had mistaken you for the serving girl. She cuts a similar figure.”

Hein glared at Botha, conscious of his ever-growing belly, and tried to figure out if the investigator was making a joke about his paunch. But Botha just smiled genially and gave no indication that he had meant anything but the most genuine of misunderstandings by his statement.

“Well, are you going to invite me in or not?” Novana blustered.

“My apologies once again, Master, I had thought you wished to bask in the sun.” Botha stepped from the door.

Now that was definitely a jibe. “You watch it, Botha, or I swear will have you exiled. I am Flamewarden of Truth.”

“I will keep you to your word, Master. You are the most truthful man in Vithr after all,” Botha replied, hiding a smile. Before Hein could hector him anymore, Botha continued. “What is it you came to see me for, Master? Surely you could have just sent a Shir as you usually do? Unless you wanted this to be just between us.”

“You guessed rightly. The Flamelord wishes for you to investigate her father’s death. She believes that he was killed. Do that on the surface, but I have a better task for your time. Hearthlord Lorin is on our side, but I fear that Hearthlord Rhin’s loyalties might lie in the wrong place. I need you to launch an investigation into this matter at once.”

Botha wasn’t quite sure whose side “our side” was, but he certainly knew that he held no enmity against the new Flamelord and didn’t necessarily wish to undermine her authority. But Novana was his superior, and Botha did not fancy the idea of losing his job and the food it provided. So he nodded affably and gently poked and prodded Novana out the door.

“Don’t you worry, Master. I will have this matter looked into at once. Farewell, Flamewarden Hein. May your paranoia never grow lesser than your girth.”

The investigator shut the door before Novana could recover from his complete shock to shout back at him.

“Alright.” Botha grinned to himself, rubbing his thick hands together; he enjoyed teasing the Flamewarden probably more than was healthy. Pushing that thought aside, Botha began to gather together various odd-looking bits of equipment, humming to himself all the while. Unconsciously, the inventor started mumbling the words to the song.

Let us not forget
Those darker times of old
Let us not forget
Strife reigned and chaos ruled

But we fear nothing
For time moves beside us
But we fear nothing
For fire burns within us

Let us not forget
When fire was lost in cold
Let us not forget
When time for life we sold

Botha could not remember who had taught him that song, but it was one he sung regularly. It made him feel important while he worked at trivial tasks, like investigating a naturally caused death. Swinging his haversack of gadgets onto his shoulder, Botha pushed his door wide open and cheerfully left the house.

His first stop was the palace. Any good investigator knew that investigating the crime scene was the first step. Unfortunately, they also usually dealt with crime scenes that had been completely untouched. Nearly two brightmoons had passed since the incident, so Botha doubted that he could obtain any useful information, but he would try his best anyway.

Tromping along the hallway, the short man gave a friendly nod to one of the guards. The armored man briefly nodded back, as he was on duty, but he spared a wink, and Botha winked back. Continuing along, the investigator mulled over how handy it had proven to be to be friends with the most loose-tongued guard in the palace.

Finally arriving at the entrance to the Flamelord’s personal chambers, Botha made a move to enter, but was halted by one of the soldiers standing in front of the door.

“Nobody enters. Flamelord’s orders.”

Botha blinked up at the man. This was a situation where the inventor wished he’d not stopped gaining height at twelve.

“I would have you know, my good man, that I am Caster Yethr-Botha, Chief Investigator under Flamewarden Hein, and I have been authorized by him personally to look into this case.”

“Don’t see how someone as short as you can do much looking,” the second guard chimed in, and the two soldiers started chuckling to themselves.

This simply made Botha more indignant. “I am the best investigator in the kingdom. Do you think the Flamelord will appreciate it if you halted her investigation?”

Before the guard could respond, the door swung open, and Flamelord Vin stepped into the hallway.

“What is all this ruckus, Gohna?” she asked.

Botha admired her poise and excellent intonation. He could still recall when she’d been a little girl running around the palace, pigtails flying behind her, with her mother following shortly behind, scolding restrainedly. Then the young Firelord had been sent away to Dithmoor, and no one had heard of her for the following twelve years.

Before the guard could reply, Botha cut in. “Apologies, Flamelord. I did not mean to disturb you, but it was impressed upon me by Flamelord Hein that an investigation into the recent passing of your father was of utmost importance to you.”

At the mention of her father, a shadow passed across the young Flamelord’s face, but she quickly regained her composure. “Yes, that would be pleasing to me. Let him in.”

“Do you need one of us—” one of the guards started, but the regent cut him off.

“I played with Caster Yethr’s inventions when I was a child, Gohna. He will not harm me.”

With a smug smile, Botha trundled in after the Flamelord, shutting the door with a resolute bang behind himself. As Flamelord Vin seated herself on the bed, the investigator began unpacking a number of gadgets from his bag. When he’d successfully strewn the floor with devices, he began setting them up.

The Flamelord watched him quietly as he worked. Feeling that it would be improper for him to begin a conversation, he worked in silence instead. Botha had been preparing the contraptions with a practiced ease, but as he settled a finely calibrated rod into its chamber, he happened to glance through the magnifying glass on his particle-detector, and what he saw made him gasp — microscopic particles of precipitate had formed on the banded thin wafers of various metals.

Quickly, he grabbed some chemicals from his bag. Unhinging the matrix from the detector, Botha set it carefully in a dish. Tentatively, he dripped an agent from one bottle onto the metal grill, then emptied a bottle of distilled water over the structure. The water came out with a faint tinge of black, causing Botha to fall backwards in shock.

“What is it?” the Flamelord asked, rising from her seat.

Botha looked up at her and his eyes said it all: her father had been murdered.

Tours yruly

III – Time [Eternity: P1]


sundial-considered-clock-ftr

TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

“What does it mean, Marthulus?” the Everking demanded.

The flamewarden seemed to deliberate for a moment. “I do not know, Alyan.”

There was a time where the Everking would have balked at the casual use of his name, but flamewardens were few and far between, and one as powerful as Marthulus deserved a few liberties.

“Well I need answers. The entire court is in disarray, and already word is spreading through the provinces. I must be able to squash the rumors, or we will never hear the end of this. It has been a brightmoon and a half since the incident, and still you can tell me nothing about what happened.”

Marthulus sighed heavily, weaving his slender fingers together and studying the signet ring that represented his position in the kingdom. Alyan was not wrong in demanding results; the flamewarden had never failed to provide answers in the past, but events of late were beyond his comprehension. He spared a look at the Everking’s deeply concerned face and heavily furrowed brow, and realized a sigh was not enough of an answer.

“It is beyond my power, Everness. If this is glyphcasting, it is unlike any I have ever heard of.”

“By Sha!” Alyan exclaimed, smashing his fist on the table. “What of the Enomatics? Have you heard word back from them?”

“The messenger arrived moonrises ago,” Marthulus said with no little exasperation. “But the foolish monks with their religious ordinances are accepting no audiences until the third brightmoon of the year.”

“By Sha,” Alyan said again, this time in an exhale of defeat.

Tovorash shifted uneasily as he stood outside the Everking’s private meeting room. He knew Marthulus would do nothing to endanger the ruler, but he had his reasons for his unsettling feeligns about the flamewarden.

It was with a significant amount of relief then, that Tovorash fell in behind the regent as he exited the meeting room. The knight-guardian felt Marthulus’ stare without even looking, but did not deign to return the look. Once again, something scratched at the back of his head, but he chose not to be distracted by it.

For a few minutes, Tovorash followed his lord quietly as the Everking wandered. The regent had taken to walking much more frequently of late, possibly to ease the burden of carrying the kingdom on his shoulders.

“I am sure you wish to know what we discussed,” he said at last, stopping and looking out into the night sky.

“I wish only to know how better to protect you against such events, Everness.”

The Everking chose to ignore the implied question. “The world is changing, Tovorash. Rythanda was killed.”

This stunned Tovorash. “The Flamelord of Vithr, sire?”

“Yes. I do not know much about him. Our fathers were not on the best of terms, but we, fortunately, did not bring with us their enmity; though I fear I cannot say the same for our kingdoms. I heard that Rythanda was a good man though; like you— honorable.”

“I cannot be compared to a Flamelord!” The bodyguard said in some alarm.

“I did not mean it in that way. And I meant no disrespect to Rythanda, Titime carry him well. He left a daughter, who takes strongly after her mother, if the rumors are correct. Whoever she weds will be the next Vith Flamelord.”

The bodyguard sensed that the Everking was now just talking aloud, and made no reply.

“Do you know what strikes me as strange? The reports say Rythanda died of a heart disease, that he suffered from some kind of seizure while in bed with his wife, and then died, suffocating the queen in the process. However, when I last saw Rythanda, he looked well and strong, despite his age. I would not have placed him past thirty, and I could have sworn I even heard rumors of him beating you at arm-wrestling.”

Tovorash did not reply to the implied question, not wishing to let the knowledge spread that he had arm-wrestled a Flamelord, let alone that he had nearly beat said Flamelord and had to fake a loss to maintain the ruler’s dignity. He could not remember the Vith Flamelord’s daughter very well, but he did recall her fiery spirit and the well-mannered poise she hid it behind.

“Well,” the Everking said, realizing his bodyguard would not humor him. “Let’s just hope we hear from the Enomatics soon. We need some kind of information.”

Over fifty spans[1] away, high in the Hivalia Mountains in the Shandannah province, the messenger from the Capital stared anxiously out the window in the small room they’d given to her. She did not know exactly how much weighed on her success in getting a message back from the Enomatics, and she herself had heard very little of the incident at the palace. What she did know was that she had not traveled fifty spans to sit and wait on the pleasure of a cryptic order of religious people who did not even answer to the Everking.

The moon shone strongly on the jagged rock formations surrounding the Enomatic temple. Bright white light outlined knife like edges which silhouetted themselves against the darkness of the land below. Nobody knew the reason or the existence of these strange sharp structures which surrounded the temple. Enomatic belief dictated that these structures were placed there by the Everflame in the very beginning of creation, but the messenger wasn’t so sure.

It was not that she disbelieved in the power of the Everflame, she just did not think that something as threatening or dangerous in appearance could have been the work of someone who was purported to be the ultimate good. Of course, she did not dare speak of such thoughts, especially while she was being hosted by the Enomatics themselves. The last thing she wanted was for them to chase her away for heresy after she’d waited all this while.

Noise at the door of his room disturbed the messenger’s reverie. She rushed to open it, only to have a robed figure fall into her arms.

“Sorry,” the person mumbled, obviously suffering from the effects of Rendelfel. “Wrong room.”

The man was about to stumble further down the hallway when, realizing that she might not have another chance, the messenger grabbed him by the shoulder. “Can you tell me what they are doing? When will I get an answer? It is for an urgent matter that I have come.”

“What urgent matter?” the Enomatic asked, speech slurred.

The messenger groaned, frustrated. “I need an Enomatic to accompany me to the capital and explain the meaning of some strange signs! This is by order of the Everking himself. Surely even you religious folk have some respect for his authority!”

“The others won’t come,” the intoxicated man said. “They are preparing for the Fire Circle Ceremony, and will be interrupted by nobody, Everking or not. I can come, though.”

For a moment, the messenger hesitated. She had been ordered to bring an Enomatic back with her, but this one clearly had some— habits. However, an Enomatic was an Enomatic after all. Imbibing in Rendelfel couldn’t make that much of a difference.

“At least tell me your name.”

The Enomatic looked at her with surprisingly clear eyes for an intoxicated man. “Time. My name is Time.”

[1] About 80 miles

Tours yruly

II – Courtly Matters [Eternity: P1]


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TOC: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

“What shall I do with all my burdens, Tovorash?” the Everking of Asyther said to the armored man standing a respectful distance behind him.

“Let me help you bear them, Everness. I am capable, and you know where my honor lies, unlike some of the others in court.”

“And it is that very honor that helps me discern between good and evil, my friend. Though I think you fear the court too much,” the regent said with a smile. “But this is also why I cannot allow you to bear my burden.”

The two men stood in silence for a while.

“It’s a Northwind, Everness,” Tovorash Ablenar, knight-guardian of the Third Order, said quietly, watching the vicious light on the horizon.

“Yes,” the regent replied, eyes saddening. “It is.” He turned to his bodyguard abruptly. “Tell me, Tovorash, do you think me a man of honor?”

The knight answered without hesitation. “Of course, Everness.”

“But I have made some poor decisions in the past, yes?”

Tovorash was slower in his reply. “They seemed best at the time, Everness.”

“But those decisions hurt my people, did they not?”

For a moment, the man was silent, then he answered quietly, “They did, Everness.”

“And I knew they would, did I not?”

Uncomfortably, Tovorash agreed.

“And yet I made the decision. How can I be a man of honor if I deliberately do things that hurt other people?”

For a while, the two men were silent. Then the bodyguard spoke. “Sometimes, Everness, others have to suffer for the greater good. If soldiers were not willing to give their lives for the cause, the whole country could fall to external invasions.”

“And if the people are not willing? What then?”

Tovorash was silent. Instead, he watched the ruler. The knight may not have been a philosopher, but he was observant. He saw in the Everking’s profile a strong, kind man, but he also saw a man hardened by the reality of ruling, steeled against adverse consequences, but most of all, determined to do the right thing. That latter quality had gained a lot of respect from the bodyguard of late.

“Come, my friend,” the Everking said at last. “It is time I faced my demons.”

Following the regent, Tovorash kept his hand on the hilt of his battle-hammer, eyes watchful for any potential sources of danger. While he left political battles to his superior, the knight took his job very seriously, sometimes even too seriously for his employer.

When the monarch sat in his high-backed, ornate throne, Tovorash took his place to the left and slightly behind the Everking. This position was chosen quite deliberately by the bodyguard, who, knowing his right hand was faster than his left, understood that were someone to fire a projectile at his charge, he would have a greater chance of saving the regent by throwing his right arm in front of the Everking.

Marthulus, the resident flamewarden, entered. Tovorash eyed him suspiciously as he stood in the center of the room. Closing his eyes, the flamewarden breathed deeply in and folded his hands together. Exhaling sharply, he threw his arms out to his sides. Torches lit themselves all throughout the room with real fire, something only seen in the highest of places, such as the Everking’s palace. Nobody except those who cast glyphs could control fire, and only flamewardens were legally allowed to use it.

Tovorash did not care much for mystics and their glyphs and glyphcasting, but he could not deny the power Marthulus had to possess to simply create fire. Something inside the bodyguard itched at the thought, but he suppressed the feeling and eyed the main doors as two palace guards swung them open. For a moment, the nagging thought returned as the bodyguard watched the doors swing open. What exactly was it? He glanced around the room for Marthulus; the flamewarden was gone.

As the earliest arrivals started filing into the court, the bodyguard once again suppressed his instincts and focused on his task. He barely glanced at the two puffy lords who sought audience with the Everking first; the only threat they posed was damaging the furniture by throwing up on it. The next dignitary, a slim, haughty man from the Havnar Province in the west had the guardian’s attention for a while, but was eventually dismissed as harmless.

However, when Tovorash saw a man caked with mud and dirt dash in and demand an audience with the Everking from a guard, he tightened his hold on the intricately carved grip of his weapon. One of the guards held the distraught man back while the other moved up and whispered something to one of the Everking’s advisors. The advisor then relayed the message to the regent himself, who tightened his lips upon hearing the news.

Tovorash heard a commotion at the door and mentally cursed himself for getting distracted. The messenger had suddenly broken free from the guard and now rushed towards the throne. Quickly unhooking his hammer from his belt, the bodyguard positioned himself in front of the Everking.

As the messenger rushed forward, the knight-guardian subconsciously took in details about the man. He was thin and wiry, built for running, as most messengers were. On his chest was the Vith royal insignia, and he wore a modified version of the tri-folded robe popular in Vith culture. However, what concerned Tovorash the most was the man’s face. Something about the way the man looked gave Tovorash the impression that the messenger had lost his mind.

The knight-guardian did not quite understand what was going on, and he did not want to have to hit the scrawny man with his hammer, but Tovorash stood prepared to do whatever was necessary. He held his large weapon in an opposing grip, dominant leg behind him, with exactly two thirds of his weight on it— a classic Hamdel defensive stance

However, the messenger tripped and fell before he could reach the throne. He landed face first and instantly went limp. Everybody in the court room fell silent as the guards cautiously approached the prostrate man. Tovorash felt sweat from his hands dampen his gloves, and his face hardened as he went on full alert. This smelled very much like an assassination attempt to him.

Instinct told him to survey the rest of the room. This would be the opportune moment for the real killer to strike, while everybody’s attention was focused on the decoy. Well, he would not be so easily fooled. Shadows, cast by the firelight of the torches, seemed to dash in and out of alcoves and corridors, making Tovorash scan the area frantically.

A collective gasp echoed around the courtroom, and the bodyguard cast a glance back at the body of the messenger. One of the guards had flipped the messenger over and Tovorash barely stifled an exclamation himself. The man was— glowing.

No, his face was glowing. Light poured from his eye sockets, nose, and mouth like vapor; it flowed as if it had a life of its own, spilling out onto the floor and pooling around the man. Tovorash did not know what to make of this. Nobody had seen phenomena like this since— the man didn’t know if anyone had ever witnessed something like this.

“What is it?” the king demanded, rising from his throne and pushing past his guard, who had been blocking the ruler’s line of sight.

Before the knight could stop him, the king had already reached the circle of guards and seen the messenger. For a moment he stared, then he turned away pale and stumbled back towards Tovorash, who hurried forward to support him.

Without warning, the messenger’s body rose from the ground as a strong wind burst in through the doors, slamming them against the walls of the palace. Suspended in the air, the body turned slowly to face the Everking. Tovorash shoved his charge behind his bulky body as he prepared to deal with the imminent threat. The body floated for a few seconds, before light beams erupted from its face, blinding everybody for a second.

In the excess of light, they all heard a loud voice, too resonant to be human, thundering, “The Rebirth comes. That which is timeless will return. See to the necessary preparations.”

When Tovorash had finally recovered his vision, a corpse lay on the ground, limbs twisted, body wasted.

Tours yruly

Taker VIII – Caravan


camels-trade-caravan-1

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