The night was dark, and so too was Visir’s heart when he murdered his brother. As much as it grieved him, he knew that it had to be done. He looked down at his pale hands, remembering the cold red blood, the tears mixed into those red gloves. That much haunted Visir’s mind as he gazed out his window, the night sky black as pitch. The mists shimmered crimson above and a hissing wind flapped at the jade silk curtains, where inside waxen candles shivered, and threw dancing light against the stonewalls and carpeted floor.
The city of Jaahon, cradled before the Endless Sea and the rocky Hills of Aarha, was alit darkly with shuddering torches, writhing in the chill winds. Slithering through the tightly built sandstone buildings and towers, a thin band of ribbon glistened like silver with glints of red that sparkled off the glassy surface. Following the path of the river, Visir saw the water flow into the great black sea, where the placid water licked with a crimson flame from the defeated red moon as it was eaten by the stark horizon.
His manor, settled in the heart of Jaahon was that of the late Lord Vhazzan, who had ruled the city for over sixty years. Though he had been unexpectedly assassinated just three months before, to the shock of the people. It was Visir who killed him. The plan had gone smoothly, and Visir had snuck in past the guards and slit his throat. The day after, he had taken control of the city, and declared his lordship of Jaahon. It was the first piece of the puzzle in a grander plan, one so bold it would leave the whole of the realm speechless.
A single thud at the wooden door sounded from behind Visir. Without a glance back, he ordered, “You are free to enter, Ior. May I trust that you bring good tidings?” Following his command, the door moaned ajar, where there squeezed a man garbed in velvet robes of deep purple that tied with leather strings along the chest. His long face was splashed with flickering candle light as he entered and his green eyes glowed pale. His head was bare and shaved, tattooed with strange symbols and arrows of deep red ink.
Visir turned sharp, his regal face shaded in the ruddy candlelight. “You may speak, my squire. Pray that they are decorous words that flow from your mouth.”
Ior’s face fell. It was slight, something many others would neglect, but Visir’s eyes read it true. “The Lord Ioden wishes to meet with you in the Temple of Qvas,” said Ior. “Upon the Hill of Venya, my lord.”
“And why does Lord Ioden wish to meet with me?” asked Visir, incredulous. “It is rather late, is it not?”
“He would not say, my lord,” said Ior. “He said only that he must meet with you urgently. Though he would not say why, my lord. I spoke briefly with his lordship, and his voice seemed pained and feeble, my lord.” He paid particular detail to the titles. His previous master had whipped him across the back for forgetting them when he spoke.
“Then at once, I must be away,” said Visir. “Ior, fetch me my travel cloak over by the door, and my blade.” As Visir threw his large cloak over his head, he watched the night, ash trickling through the thick air. He fingered the pommel of his ancient sword, Frostbite, the steel glowing through the dark with the glints of candlelight as it caressed the hilt.
“Would you like me to escort you, my lord?” asked Ior, opening the door with a creak. “The streets are rather dark at this hour in this everlasting night. One can never be safe in these times, if you would trust, my lord.”
“There is no need, Ior,” calmed Visir. “I shall walk myself to the temple. Though when I am gone, see that you stand guard at the door.”
“Why, my lord?” asked Ior.
“Just for precaution,” said Visir. “As you said, the streets are rather dark this night.”
Visir hurried down a thin cobblestone alley, ruled by shadow. His hard bottomed boots clopped heavily as he strode, echoing through the barren street. It was late, and the lights of all the shops had been put out. Rusted wooden signs groaned scratchily in the whispering winds, and up ahead an old carriage hobbled along through the stone streets, the wheels moaning creakily as they turned, back hunched like a stiff crone.
Turning a corner, Visir’s long blue cloak smacked his ankles and tumbled down his back, writhing as it brushed across the cobblestone, the heavy fabric curling about his neck as the fingers of air tickled their stitching. This street was wider and alit with ruddy torches that stood bolstered on wrought-iron mantles high upon the stonewalls like watchmen. Visir’s face was shrouded beneath a long leather hood, masked by shadow. He made his way to the rocky Hill of Venya, in the west end of the city, where the irregular shelves fell in great drops. Jagged spires rose off into the curling bands of mist farther west, hoisted into the curling bands of mist like great towers of shadow, scratching the crimson veil like broken metal.
A pair of emerald torches burned against the rock walls, their light prancing against the tan rock like a dancer’s feet. Between the torches, a great archway fell into black, where a path wound through the stone. Up close, the white stone arch was inscribed with words of an ancient tongue, pulsing with light. The etchings were sharp and rough, clearly work of the ancient Alduri, from the times of the Anturrian Empire. Only stories were left to tell of their greatness.
Visir vanished into the door of darkness, where inside there was a feeble white glow that shone through the vast hall like moonlight. Hulking stone pillars supported the jagged rock roof, and were laced with letters of a lost language, older than even the Ald. The arching pillars marched off into the ghostly glow like giant soldiers, the shadows creeping through the pale light like a black cat down an alley. Visir continued through the massive hall, coming to a hidden path through the stone. The sliver of space slithered like a snake through the stone, dark as pitch, and lead to a small shrine room. At the heart, atop a crumbled stone dais there stood a silhouette of a man. He stood under the domination of the stone statue of the great god Qvas, God of the Voice and Speech, who was clad in stone armor.
Emerald flames licked at the circular walls, tinting Qvas’ armor darkly. Visir walked up to the silhouette, “Why have you dragged me from my quiet night alone, Ioden?” he asked. “You know I don’t have many of them.”
Ioden’s figure was cast out of shadow, revealing his ruby red robes, and his pitch-black hair. Visir quivered as he saw his face. “Ioden,” he stammered.
“What? What happened to you?”
Across Ioden’s dark skinned face, a long gash sliced from his brow to his chin. The skin was ripped open harshly and the flesh beneath glowed a bright, vibrant red. Black blood oozed out the jagged edges of skin and a crusty film cracked along the sides. The grotesque gash cut deep, narrowly missing his eye, but running over his long nose and ripping down his lips, which were caked with crusty blood stained skin where pale, thick pus slowly crawled out of the wound.
“When did this happen?” asked Visir, his stomach churning. He had seen blood before. He had seen death. But he had never seen agony or pain much like this.
He made to clean the gash with his robe, but Ioden slapped his hand away from his face with great speed. “Don’t touch it,” he hissed. “It hurts too much.”
“We must get you to Veller,” said Visir. “He’ll help you. He’s a doctor. You need his medicine. The wound will fester if you do not.”
“No,” said Ioden, voice low. “No. Not yet. You must hear of what I saw, ere I am taken to Veller.”
Visir staggered, heart beginning to leap. “What has those dark eyes looked upon since your departure last month?”
“I was attacked,” said Ioden, the memory still fresh. “I was attacked by a varran.”
“That is not possible,” gasped Visir. “The varran have been dead for a hundred years. They died off during the Ascension. The Anturrians of Abelon destroyed them.”
“They are back,” said Ioden. “They have returned, after so long a slumber. I saw them with my own waking eyes. Dark as night and black as pitch, wrought of shadow.”
“Where?” asked Visir, curt. He was more surprised than worried for some reason. Surprised that this had not reached his ears sooner. “Where did you see such fell creatures, and where the bloody hell is Eilin? You two left together, did you not?”
“When we were traveling back from Saem, along the Night Road, Eilin said her heard something,” said Ioden. “As we approached a knoll, I heard a screech, and the cry of Eilin, as he writhed on the ground, body glistening with blood. This figure…this beast was atop his dead body, and that is when I looked it in the eyes, and saw those crimson red slits, burning like fire through the dark shadows of its body. I ran, but it caught me, but I managed to roll away with only this.” He pointed to his scar across his face. “I killed two, and the others chased until I hid away in an Ashwood, high in a tree. I stayed there was a week, wondering through, until I found myself back on the Night Road and followed it quickly back to Jaahon. I heard their screeches through the night as I entered the city, and made my way here, the place I new was safest.”
“Do you know who sent them here?” asked Visir, beads of sweat rolling down his temples. “Do you know how they found you?”
Ioden only shook his head.
“Damn it, Ioden who sent them!”
Ioden trembled. “I don’t know!” His voice burst like thunder as it rumbled forth.
Visir shuddered rigidly, his heart stopping. Icy talons crawled across his spine and his skin became scaled in thousands of frigid mounds. They were coming…
“Hurry,” said Visir. “I will take you to my home. There we will stay, for now. We will be safe there, for this night, I can guess. I will clean your wounds there, but we must make haste, my friend. If this true, what you say, then we are both in great danger, as well as the entire city.”
Ioden nodded and followed Visir quickly out of the temple, leaving the statue of Qvas alone in the green torch light. The harsh winds thrashed viscously, and the night was dominated by darkness s they sped through the alleys. The crimson veil of mist rippled overhead like the frothy waves along the coast and the torches ablaze through the city flickered dimly. The streets were barren and their footsteps were the only sounds to echo against the cobblestone.
They arrived at Visir’s home quickly, after winding up the steep stairs of his manor. Visir stopped at the doorway, the color in his face draining. Under the ruddy torchlight, Ior, his squire, lay dead on the ground, a thick dark pool of blood crawling across the threshold. Inside, all the candles had been blown out and a swirling cloud of smoke swam thorough the room that lay ravaged in chaos.
“His neck was slit,” said Ioden, examining the body. “This is exactly how Eilin looked, when he…”
Visir did not turn to answer, but crouched down to pick up a single piece of parchment that lay on the carpeted floor. He flipped it over and on the tan paper there was a red hand, stamped with Ior’s blood. Under the hand, a spidery font read, we know.
"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."