1,001 Years Later
Kale’s heart pounded rigorously against his ribcage like hammer blows. He could feel the unnerving drum in his throat, the beating echo in his head. He was dizzy and his vision warped in and out of focus. He sat there, crouched and concealed behind a large black stone rock, hard and cold. He peaked his head over the edge, struggling to see.
Darkness. Everywhere there was darkness. Grim, eerie, oppressive; it hung over the world like a great stifling cloak. No moonlight sifted down; no stars glistened from above; only night, sinister and eternal, and the swirling red mists shifted forebodingly with an ominous glint. Ash continually floated from the sky like snowflakes, lazy, languorous, lethargic. The winds screamed with a cruel and biting chill, harsh and grating. The mist and shadows blanketed all. It had been like this for 1,000 years.
Ever since the Oppressive One had taken over, overthrowing the sacred Order of Abelon the world had been plunged into an everlasting darkness, with continual ash falls and frigid winds. Not in 1,000 years has the land seen any natural light. Red mists drift across the black sky, increasing in size with every death. Soon they say, the mist will cover the entire land, ruling without mercy. The Oppressive One has enslaved the people and the cities, forcing them to obey his draconian rule. Every rebellion and revolt to lift the black shadow that hangs over the lands have all failed, leaving the world imprisoned in his tyrannous and repressive rule... Until.
Before Kale, off in the distance a great city rose up into the red mist and black clouds, challenging the darkness. Vaelon it was called by the Alduri; the common people of Runir. It was their capital, glowing with red and white light, the darkness consuming their iridescence. Its thin metal towers spiked into the air like massive spears, stark and striking, hovering over the ground and the tight slums of the city and pierced the red veil high above. Miles they rose up, where the crackling crimson lightning played eternally on the hard black steel. The darkness had slowly eroded the beauty of the city that it was so long ago.
I cannot return. Kale repeated to himself. I cannot go back. They are after me. Kale turned his head and shuffled through the high grey grass to the other side of the rock, seeing ahead sheer grim peaks of rock, jagged and unyielding disappear into the red layer of mist. Thick coats of ash draped over their piercing peaks and rivers of filmy ash raced through their convoluted folds. Kale shuddered as he gazed up at the mountains, they would not be welcoming.
Kale stirred rigidly as a shout pierced his ears, his skin prickling with and icy chill. Another shout carried through the blackness, in pursuit. It was growing louder as it approached, the grass whispering as the shouter hastened through. They found me. He whispered to himself and he bolted. He sprung from his crouch and leapt through the air, his feet slamming down onto the rocky grey earth and sped off. The biter wind sliced at his shivering face and the high grass brushed its long fingers against his legs malevolently.
The shouts raised in voice, five more joining into the song. The six men chased after Kale, slowly falling behind. The heavy black and red plates of armor slowed their movements and pace. Kale could hear the high chinking of their iron greaves fading away as he increased in speed. He was fast, his brother had always told him. It was a natural gift. I’ll never see him again. Thought Kale in his head, reproached. Will he come looking for me?
The barking shouts from behind him shattered his train of thought, but the shouts were different. They were closer. They had somehow gained on him. But How? Kale could hear the shouts slowly crawling closer and closer, their words beginning to echo in his ears. Kale knew exactly what they were, and knew they would follow him. They were Snatchers, mere lifeless projectiles of the Oppressive One. They did whatever he said, for it was him that created them. Kale knew that their pursuit was relentless, though he thought he could escape. Ignorant.
The shouts were getting increasingly closer, creeping up behind with unnatural speed. Kale had no other option. He changed course, turning east until he came to another rock boulder, a film of ash delicately laid across the stone. This would have to work; he had no other choice. He whipped behind it, his scent blending with the rock. The Snatchers stopped before the rock, Kale could hear their harsh breathes.
Kale crouched with his back to the rock, looking off into the red-black expanse before him. A ways off, there was a faint light in the distance. In the red haze, he could see a single thin tower rising from the cities base. It was the small city of Elandor, known for their underground tunnel systems. Kale had been there once, when he was five. His brother, Caza had brought him as a gift. Always Kale would speak of the city, for he saw it everyday from his house in Vaelon. He pleaded with Caza day after day until he finally conceded into taking him. When they had gone they explored the underground tunnels and climbed to the top of the Sirca, the single tower of Elandor.
The Snatchers argued in Andiri, the language of the Oppressive One. Their tongue was unknown to Kale, though he had heard it before in the streets of Vaelon as they patrolled the alleys and gates. Kale managed to decipher the grumbling, learning that they talked of something about rebels rising up against the Oppressive One. About Time, thought Kale as he sat there, his breathing quieted. He sneaked a glance at the mountains once again, tinted with red. I can’t go back. He muttered. He looked back on the distant lights and spires of Vaelon. It had been his home for all fifteen years of his life. But not anymore.
He slowly lowered his body until he lay flat against the grassy earth, the fetor odor of the ash wondering into his nostrils. It stank of death. He crawled through the concealing grass, a faint rustle shifting with his movements. He kept his eyes locked on the Snatchers as he creeped passed, watching them intensely. He was ready to run, though they did not notice him. Masked by the darkness, Kale continued until he felt as though he was far enough away. He was wrong.
Immediately after standing up, the Snatcher’s shouts scratched across the black sky, chasing after him. Kale hastened away, his feet pounding against the hard earth, his ears drumming with the constant sound. When will they leave? He already knew the answer. The mountains loomed over him, looking down on Kale with intimidating eyes. He was almost there. He could smell the chill scent of the rock and he could feel the ground growing rocky and elevated beneath his feet.
The shouts of the Snatchers began to bellow louder and louder until Kale felt himself being thrust to the side and down to the earth. He lost all control, his body ripped out of his command as a hand gripped his black and grey clothes with such vigor. He collided with the ground in a brutal suddenness, his mouth being shielded by a gloved hand. “Stay here.” Kale heard through his pain and puzzlement. He did as told, not daring to disobey.
There was a rustle of grass and the man that had pulled Kale to the ground began walking toward the Snatchers. In the dim red misty light, Kale could see the figure silhouetted with a flapping black cloak and a shrouding leather hood that hid his face. The man approached the Snatchers in a calm strut, his arms by his side, but he was anything but calm.
A Snatcher drove a spear at the man’s chest, though it was parried with a meek wave of his hand, a spark dancing from the blade of his black dagger, intricately forged. With his other hand, he drove his second dagger into the Snatcher’s chest. It fell to the earth with a subdued thud. The six Snatchers all attacked the man, driving spear and sword at him, though they were all met by the black metal of the man’s daggers. The steel and iron sang as they clashed and sparks shimmered in the blackness. The man was so quick with his strikes, executing them all with such precision and technique. After dodging a slash at his head, he twirled, berating the Snatcher with a flurry of perfectly timed attacks, knocking it to the ground, motionless.
One Snatcher remained, his massive greatsword swinging in the air. It growled something then lunged at the cloaked man, though he sidestepped the attack easily. He jabbed with one of his daggers, though was parried by the thick silver steel blade that glinted in the dark light. The hooded man danced with his weapons, swift and lithe, jabbing and stabbing and swiping. The Snatcher lunged and swung, heaving his blade. The man was playing with the creature, tempting him to swing too hard. It worked. Just as the Snatcher leapt from the ground, its sword held over its head, ready to thrust it down on the cloaked figure, the man slid under the Snatcher, slicing the Snatchers underside. All six lay dead, their bodies slowly deteriorating into a thin red mist that rose into the air and faded into the blackness.
The man turned back to Kale who lay with his head spinning. Sheathing his daggers along his leather belt, the figure picked Kale up and tugged on his arm, “Follow me.” He whispered. “There will be more coming after they hear of this.” Kale nodded in response, and followed the man who swept across the rocky ground toward the mountain peaks cloaked with robes of ash. Kale stared up at the mountains, his deep blue eyes glowing. I made it. He reassured himself, relieved. I escaped.
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