Visir looked down at the floor where rivers of thick red crawled along the panels of wood. When could this have happened? He glanced over to Ioden who wore the same grim expression across his dark face. It was an expression of grief and sorrow, but also a sudden recognition. Visir knew, as did the rest of them, they would have to act now.
Lorad flung open the wooden door behind them with a clap as it slammed on the wall. He rushed in and stopped abruptly when he saw the corpse of Rhas, lying face first on the floor, a dark red hole in his white robes. The fabrics had been stained heavily with the heavy flow of blood and drenched the back as if he had swam in red paint.
“I came as soon as I heard.” Lorad gasped.
“As did I.” Said Ioden glumly.
“Who?” Asked Lorad. “Who dealt this death?”
“The same who did Ior in.” Said Visir, looking down at the bloodied body.
“How do you know?” Breathed Lorad.
Visir shot Ioden a quick glance then kneeled down next to Rhas’ figure and grasped his left arm. He rolled the man over, his hands smeared with blood and his shirt cuffs wet with it. When the man fell on his back, Lorad cursed. Stamped onto Rhas’ bare chest, a red hand of blood dripped like rain down his torso. Under the hand, red lacerations laced together to read, we know.
“It will not be soon until we share the fate of Ior and Rhas.” Said Visir.
“Indeed.” Said Lorad. “This cannot go on any longer. Soon enough we’ll all be dead.”
“We must do something. Something to stop these deaths.” Said Visir.
“But what?” Said Ioden. “We cannot stay here as we are now. They’ll kill us as they already have. We’ll drop like flies.”
“We already are dropping like flies.” Said Lorad. “Two of our people have been murdered in the last week.”
“Then it is clear we must change location.” Said Ioden.
“Where to?” Asked Lorad. “If we go to the mountains, they will discover our host. If we go anywhere, they will see us leave and slaughter us as we escape.”
“True.” Said Visir. “We cannot flee. We must stay in Jaahon.”
“But that is where they are.” Said Ioden. “If we stay it is only a mater of time we die.”
“Longer than if we tried to run.” Said Visir. “Where is Dockz? Has he left us yet to journey back to the Mountains or is he still here, only fast asleep?”
“He meant to make for the Mountains on the morrow, ere break of day.” Said Ioden.
“Then we have been granted luck.” Said Visir. “If he had left, we would have been in deeper danger.”
“How?” Asked Lorad. “They would have killed him here anyway in time, if he stayed.”
“They would have followed him, Lorad.” Said Visir. “They would have followed close behind until he led them to the rebellion host and murdered him there along with all our army.”
“Then we must make sure that Dockz is informed.” Ioden said as he glanced over at Lorad who stood in his silk robes, “Go inform Dockz of Rhas’ death and that he must remain in Jaahon. Return back when you have attained confirmation of his stay and that his horse is set back in the stables.”
“At once.” Said Lorad, bowing his head. “I will see it done.” And he tapped away along the wood floor, his silk dancing along behind.
When he was gone, Visir looked back down at Rhas’ dead body. “I must leave.”
“But, Visir, you can’t.” Said Ioden. “You just said…”
“I know what I said.” Said Visir. “But I must go, and now.”
“If you leave, you will die.” Said Ioden stiffly. “The way north is watched, just like said.”
“Who said I was going north?” Said Visir with a sly smile creeping across his face.
“What do you mean?” Said Ioden, his brows knitting together. “There is nothing to go south to. There are no cities or castles. Jaahon is the last.” Ioden knew, but could not comprehend.
Visir stared into Ioden’s eyes. “You already know, Ioden. You already know what I must do. I see it in your eyes. The longing shimmers like gold. Though I must and I will. You cannot sway me. I have already made my decision.”
“If you leave, the rest will loose hope.”
“And you will give them hope.” Said Visir. “As I have already told you, you will lead as I did. You will command the rebellion and you will protect the city of Jaahon and all its people, including yourself.”
“I can only wish that you survive.” Said Ioden, his eyes glistening like diamonds in the night. “And return with a great host to bring victory and light to Runir.”
“As can I.” Said Visir. “And I can only wish that you lead this rebellion better than I did. In the name of the Ancient Ones, I bless you, Lord Ioden Darksword of Ambaren. I bless you well.”
Visir urged Dockz’s horse on through the black night, the red mists wheeling overhead. The air was cool and crisp, ash swimming through the sky. He shot a quick glance back at Jaahon, where the stifled torches strained to blaze. That place was not safe anymore, and he knew it. But neither was the place he was going.
Writhing along his back, a black cloak was tied together with a marble brooch at the neck and a heavy leather hood hung down over his eyes. Strapped to his leather belt, his longsword clinked with the great strides of the horse in its banded leather scabbard. Its name was Frostbite, for the sterling silver blade sliced like ice, cool and piercing as it bit.
He had used it back in his days when he was a Ranger of Svarr, keeping the raids of the Enemy at bay. The Mountains of Svaerdon were his home then, the high ash-laden peaks, the deep chines. He often thought back on his time as a Ranger, but it all funneled to one event that ruined everything. He ran his gloved hand down his back, feeling the raised scars.
Visir hastened on, flying across the black stone earth and the grey grass, where their long fingers pulled at the horse’s muscular legs. The ground was a constant blur, racing by like a conveyer belt, fast and fluid. The land was flat and dusty from the film of ash that delicately laid across the rock, save for the sporadic hills and mounds that rolled on like low ripples of water foaming off into white water. All was dark.
Visir tightened his grasp on the girdle, the leather groaning. He urged his horse to go faster, its head rearing at the command. The horse’s legs pounded against the earth quicker until Visir’s eyes watered at the speed in which he traveled. The black waste before him warped in and out of focus as his vision faltered. The watery grey film came and went, blurring his surrounding like he wore thick glasses over the bridge of his nose.
He whipped away the fluid with the back of his hand; the beads of water chasing down the sides of his face. Blinking, he kicked his heels into the horse’s side and leaned down to its ear, chanting encouragements. The horse responded with a loud cry and quickened pace, its legs a motionless blur, hitting the earth with such grace and precision Visir did not even feel the pounding as he sat on his leather saddle.
The winds sliced at his beaming red flesh, the skin cool and moist. A thin layer of frost sparkled on his face and his nose glowed a pink-red. As the piercing needles of frost barraged his icy face, through his squinted eyes he could perceive a dark silhouette of an ancient ruin in the distance, illuminated roughly by the red shifting sea of mist above. Visir made for the ruin to find his path met by stark walls of crumbled stone that rose into the grey skies like black lances.
The towers and keeps were demolished and wrecked, drooping with sorrow. Visir clopped around the walls to find the grand gates, the doors nowhere to be found. The arch was thin and weathered, a hood of ash draped over the curve. Inside, as he passed beneath the stone gate, everything was in ruin and the towers laid in great heaps, blanketed in thick ash that drifted down from the sky sleepily.
In the heavy darkness, the shadows ruled the ancient remains, casting long blades of impregnable darkness. Lost under the curtains of shadow, Visir discerned a slight movement in the rubble. He stopped still, his blood growing cold as ice and his skin a great scale of frigid lumps. His heart began to drum in his chest, slowly crawling up his throat to his head. Dismounting, he began to slid out Frostbite, the gleaming silver blade gliding up the leather sheathe. The cold iron hilt burned through his gloves as he wrapped his hands around the ribbed battered leather, laden with age.
He began to creep along the loose stone and dust, one foot in front of the other. He held Frostbite up, ready to slash, ready to kill. Stepping out of the blade of shadow, he searched the grey stone ruins to find nothing. He let down his guard slightly, his figure loosening up…until he felt it.
There was a fast jab at the small of his back and his spine erupted in pain and agony, screaming with fire. His longsword dropped from his grasp and clattered to the stone wreckage with a high ring and he could feel his arms being bound with a harsh cloth and darkness took him.
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