The mountains were cold and the winds were harsh as Kale stumbled behind Ekin, following the light of his armor through the heavy darkness. Above, the shifting sea of red mist shimmered darkly. It was a living being, moving and breathing like man. He had never seen it so close before. He had never wanted to.
Kale shuddered rigidly in the frigid air, thin and icy. Winds from the north barreled through the narrow mountain passes and burned their skin as if icy fire licked along their flesh. Their haggard and ragged clothes writhed in the hissing winds and the dismal heavy ash swam through the air like snow.
The rock and stone was jagged and dark, rising all around Kale in shelves like walls. Their grey faces were cloaked in a fine dust of ash and their piercing peaks disappeared into the crimson ceiling above. Kale brushed his freezing red hand along the rock. They were dry and biter with a rough texture that raced down the length of the rock. They were cold.
Loose stones stumbled through the convoluted labyrinth as the two travelers passed, wandering through the barren rock and stone. Kale hugged himself tightly as another massive gale of wind howled through the high passes. He shivered tremulously, his teeth chattering loudly. His arms were scaled in tiny mounds and his hair stood on end. He rubbed them vigorously in an attempt to warm them, but to no avail.
Kale watched Ekin traverse the serrated terrain, blackness engulfing the horizon. His glowing plate armor illuminated the surrounding rock dimly, the dense darkness consuming the light. Ekin led Kale to a small outcropping of rock, overlooking a sheer descent that was eaten by a darkness black as pitch. He glanced back at Kale, his silvery hood over his eyes, “We shall rest here for now. It appears suitable enough. Though in these parts nothing can seem suitable now can it?” Kale nodded, anywhere would have to do. They had no other choice.
He sat down on a natural bench of rock protruding from a cliff face. It was cool and biting, though there was nothing better. Ekin placed his sword down beside him as he sat down opposite Kale. There was nothing to make a fire to provide light or warmth. The only light was Ekin’s armor, which seemed to be drowned out slightly, as if faded. Another freezing gust of wind screamed in their ears and the red mists above sparkled eerily through the darkness. All was grey and solemn.
“Where are we now?” Asked Kale scratchily, his voice faltering.
“We are still in the Mountains of Varrin and will be for quite a while.” Said Ekin. “They are a great mountain chain, running along most of the northern lands of Runir. These grey peaks are what separate the beings of the snowy wastes of Vorae from entering our lands. They were once though beautiful to behold with glistening coats of snow draped down their steep shoulders and verdant green coats of armor that ran down their great legs. Though all that has changed in the years of the Oppressive One’s ascension, sadly.”
“How long will we be in Varrin?” Said Kale, shivering.
“The mountains are wide and treacherous.” Explained Ekin. “They are not easy to cross. Their jagged peaks rise high and their paths are narrow and masked by blackness. I presume it will take a good five full days, if we are lucky.”
“Lucky?” Questioned Kale.
“Indeed.” Said Ekin, warming his hands. “These mountains are home to many ancient creatures and people. They have never left the mountains, even after the Ascension and still roam theses peaks. They stayed under the rock and that is where they will stay forever longer. But be aware that there are more than just goblins that roam the caves of the world. It would be most unwise to disturb them during our travels, for they have waited long for flesh to feast on.”
“What about those things that attacked us?” Said Kale. “What were they? Do they live in the mountains?”
“Those creatures were the Maeran as spoken in the Andiri of Moram, though in the Aldiri, they are called the Dehre, Black Knights. These foes are among the greatest of men among the ranks of the Oppressive One. They are not man or machine, nor are they living or dead. They are simply souls, dark souls, corrupted by evil and shadow.
“They once roamed the ancient lands of this world as great knights, protecting the frail. Though once the Oppressive One plunged Erridai into shadow, they were taken into the wroth of Him and driven mad and deranged until they became bound to Him. They live in the name of the Dark Lord and die in his name. Behind the massive plates of black, there is nothing but a void of darkness and their faces are masked by a black veil. Only the Oppressive One sees them as they once were, behind the armor and behind the masks. I fear too that the same would happen to our Order if ever captured. The thought hunts me day and night, everyday I sit alone in my home in the mountains.”
Kale cupped his hands around his blue cracked lips, “But what if you didn’t have to worry?”
“What do you mean?” Asked Ekin.
“What if you didn’t have to worry about being imprisoned by the Oppressive One?” Said Kale. “What if you didn’t hide in the mountains? What if there was no more darkness? What if there was freedom?”
“These things you speak of cannot happen.” Said Ekin, morbid. “These things you believe in can never come true. Why do you not understand this?”
“Because I dare to hope.” Said Kale. “I dare to see a world free of the Oppressive One. I dare to see a world restored to its former glory. I dare to see the One Empire fall.”
Ekin sneered in his arm, “You dare to hope. Well I dare to live. Ever since the Oppressive One’s ascension I have lived in shadow, hiding from everything. If ever word that a Knight of Abelon lives I will be hunted down and killed. I dare to stay alive. I dare to be who I am.”
“And who are you, but not for a coward.” Said Kale, emotions ensnaring his mind. “Who are you but not for a deserter. Who are you but not what you truly are: and abandoner. How can you look at yourself every morning and feel satisfied. How can you look out your window and see nothing but black and be satisfied.”
“You think I’m satisfied?” Said Ekin. “I am the farthest from satisfied. You think I see this darkness and mist and act as if it is not there? I know what is happening and I know what happened. But I do not know what will happen.”
“And will never know if you continue to hide.” Said Kale. “Unless you act. Unless you do what your Order was meant to do. What they used to do. What they should do.”
“Our Order is meant to do nothing now.”
“You Order is meant to protect the Aldiri. Or have you forgotten?”
“Do not lecture me of our purpose.” Snarled Ekin. “You do not know the slightest of our situation.”
“I know enough to know you failed you duties and the oaths you took.” Spat kale. “Do the vows mean nothing to you? Or are they merely words?”
Ekin did not answer, but stared into the black horizon, falling away in shelves of shadow. A wind screamed through the mountains rigidly and burned Kale’s skin. He shivered slightly. “Do you want to be known as the knights who abandoned their oaths, their vows, their people? Do you want to dishonor the people you sought to protect? Do you want to lay waste to all the devastation and destruction of our land? You owe the people of Runir better. You owe them at least an attempt.”
“To attempt would mean certain death.” Said Ekin. “To do anything would mean certain death.”
“But are you not dead already?” Said Kale. “Sitting in your stone home for a thousand years. Do you not consider that death? Do you not consider that every Alduri in Runir believes you to be long dead?”
“Bugger what they think.” Said Ekin. “They aren’t the ones who will fight.”
“They will if they see the Knights of Abelon reclaim their swords.” Said Kale.
“What makes you think so?” Said Ekin. “What makes you think that they will follow?”
“Because they have hope.” Said Kale. “They dare to believe that the Oppressive One can be defeated.”
“Their beliefs are folly.” Said Ekin.
“Are they?” Asked Kale. “Then how come they are massing in the south, below the Mountains of Svaerdon?”
“Because they are ignorant of the power of the Oppressive One.”
“It is because they believe.” Said Kale, another vicious gale of wind howling by their faces and ripping at their loose clothes. “Belief is a powerful thing, Ekin. It is stronger than force, stronger than even will. It is what wins battles and what inspires people to live. Without it, there can be nothing in the world.” He stared into Ekin’s grey-blue eyes. They sparkled dimly in the light of his plate armor. He looked worn and morose.
“Can you give us belief, Ekin?” Kale continued. “Can you inspire the rebellion to overthrow the Oppressive One? Or will you do nothing and simply fall into the deep shadows of this land and die without an effort? The choice is yours.”
Ekin glanced up at the dark crimson mists above, the light dancing along his face. The stark grey faces of rock and stone rose into the shifting mist, disappearing. He brought his head back down and looked into Kale’s eyes.
“The legacy of our Order has forever long been true and honorable and I will do what I can to keep it like that.” He said. “I will aid you in whatever you plan on doing.”
Kale nodded his head; he had not expected this. “The real of Runir thanks you, Ekin.” He said, bowing. “Though it is not only you we need to overthrow the Last Empire.”
“Indeed.” Said Ekin. “We will need the rest of our Order if we are to even break the lines of Moram and Harfir. They are far stronger than you think.”
“Exactly.” Said Kale. “We will need the others as well as you. If they are even still alive.”
“That is my fear.” Said Ekin. “They might have been discovered. They might have been found. One thousand years is a long time to hide from those who patrol the murk. I myself am surprised I have not been found since this day.”
“But do you know where they are, if they are still alive?” Asked Kale.
“That I do not.” Said Ekin. “When we disbanded, we never told of where we would journey to. Some might have even journeyed out of Runir and into the realms of Hhad or Vorae, maybe even the Islands of Qethos. I have but the knowledge of their location, for they could be anywhere.”
“How will we find them?” Asked Kale, distressed. “If they could be anywhere, it would take years to find them all and convince them. By that time, the Oppressive One might darken the shadows and lower the mists until we are completely consumed by the red haze.”
Ekin thought for a long while, pensive. “There is one that might know of their location.”
“Who?” Said Kale.
“I cannot remember his name exactly, for my mind has grown clouded and foggy from the long years I have spent in my house of stone.” Said Ekin. “But what I can remember is that he lives in Vorr, the capital city of the Ilmari along the bend of the Mountains of Varrin.”
“Vorr!” Said Kale. “You’ll never make it through the city unseen.”
“Another complication.” Said Ekin. “But that is the only way I see it possible to find the remaining nine knights.”
“Indeed.” Said Kale, desperate. “What do you propose we do then? Do we risk the chance?”
“We are already risking our lives, Kale.” Said Ekin. “What greater risk could there be?”
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