Tarar glowed from within a dark and sinister red, eerie and foreboding. The spires rose like black talons, ripping through the sky, the crimson lighting crackling at their peaks. The ash endlessly fell from the black sky and swayed carelessly with the wind. This place was not safe… but is anything safe?
He looked over at Ekin who had slid his sword out of its sheathe again to clean the steel. The black blood of the beast had tainted the vibrant glow. Kale kneeled beside him, “What was that thing? Was is The Enemy?”
Ekin caressed the flat of the blade with his sleeve, the cloth gracefully sliding across. “No.” He said plainly, “That was no beast of the Enemy, we were lucky. If it had, the Oppressive One would have known of me, a thing he must never find out until we are at his doorstep.”
“Then what was it, if not the Enemy?” Asked Kale.
“A Vvag, a demented wolf from the icy wastes of Vorae.” Explained Ekin. “They are an ancient species from before the time of the Alduri’s arrival in Runir. In their many thousand years in Vorae, they have been altered with the dark magic of Vvaaz, the magic of the Vvar’s.”
“Vvar’s?” Kale said, confused. “Who are they?”
“An ancient race of people from northern reaches of Vorae, the first to live there. They came long before the Ilmari, for they are their ancestors, though over time, they have changed. The Vvar’s held this dark magic and ruled the snowy wastes for over ten thousand years. They infused their magic into the Vvag’s across the land and did rituals with them. They were their sigil, white banners with the stark black Vvag’s head emblazoned onto the front.
“Over the many years, after the extinction of the Vvar’s, the Vvag’s migrated south, following the rogue Scirr and the great migration of the Ilmari, during the Ascension. These creatures are extremely dangerous, it gave me a good quarrel.” He chuckled, “Perhaps all these long years are finally catching up.”
Kale looked back up at the striking walls of Tarar and the great wooden gate, banded with gleamed iron and steel, tinted with red. “How are we to enter? It is guarded heavily.” He identified, catching a glimpse at the many guards clad in black armor and long iron spears. “We cannot just walk in.”
“Indeed.” Said Ekin, narrowing his eyes. “We can’t. If not the front door… why not the back? We could climb back into the mountains until we were over the walls…” He stopped talking.
“You were saying?” Said Kale.
“Hush.” Whispered Ekin, putting his finger to his lip and nodded his head to the left. Kale followed his movements until he saw. Creaking along the weathered dirt road, stumbling over the rocky soil, there was a carriage. A single horse clopped at its head, pulling the wood and a man sat in the driver’s seat, with the body enclosed with a leather cloth. The large wooden wheel rolled crustily along the rutted path and the man sung a dreary tune.
Ekin looked over at Kale, and whispered, “Follow me, and quick, we cannot be seen or heard.”
Kale nodded and arched his back as low as it could and scampered off across the earth. The darkness played into their plot, masking them as if they were invisible. Ekin sped toward the carriage without a sound, making for the rear. Kale whisked by close behind until they were in the rear, and Ekin ushered Kale in, raising the tanned leather flap. Kale crawled in silently and kept the flap raised for Ekin as he heaved himself in and they both seated themselves on the wooden benches on either side.
Lying beside Kale, a haggard man in a tattered woolen cloak of grey snored, his chest rising and falling in great heaps. His face was hidden with a shrouding black hood and his hands hung down off the side, wrapped in a bloody gauze. The man reeked of wine, heavy and intense, even intoxicating. In the carriage they rode, swaying with its jerky movements and creaks. The man never fell by some miracle, though his hand did scrape along the wooden planks, smearing them with dark, dry blood.
The two said nothing, only sat idly, waiting and waiting as the carriage bumped along the rutted dirt road until finally it stopped. With a rear and the cry of the horse, the carriage moan to a halt, presumably before the gates. Kale held his breathe as he heard the chinking of greaves outside the leather barrier.
“Where are you coming from?” Asked the guard, holding his long spear at the driver.
The driver was an elderly man with a greying beard and long white hair like snow. His voice was labored and laden with age, “I travel from Arvene, transporting a man I found along the side of the Northern Road. He pleaded me for safe travel to Tarar. He says he has family here.”
“What is this man’s name you travel?” Asked one of the guards. “Is he awake back there, might I have a look?”
“Don’t bother, you’d only waster you’re time.” Said the driver. “He never told me his name and all he does is sleep. I reckon he’s slept the entire way.”
The guard grunted and tapped the wood with his iron spear in a deep tune. “Move on.”
The driver nodded his head, “The gods thank you.” And reared the horse into motion, the carriage hobbling along. Kale breathed again, relieved. Then there was a great rumbling and groan of iron and steel, singing in deep and baritone voices. There was a thunderous halt and the gates were open, the carriage creaking its way inside.
When the gates roared closed again, Ekin glanced at Kale, whispering, “We need to get out now.”
At his voice, the drunken man stirred, shifting his weight. His hood pulled back and Kale could see the side of the man’s face burned horridly, the skin bubbling. The flesh had blackened and much of it had peeled away. Beneath, the skin was a vivid red and was raised in mounds. Kale held back the vomit shooting up his stomach, and shot his head in the other direction.
Ekin opened the back flap of leather and urged Kale out quickly. His mouth covered, Kale leaped out of the carriage furtively and was soon accompanied with Ekin. Outside, the streets were tight and the ground was muddy and rocky. The people were all garbed in either grey or black robes and hustled by, keeping to themselves. Ekin threw his hood up, his face hidden in shadow and Kale did the same. The Knight thrust Kale to the side of the street and they bustled through the crowds of people gathered in the narrow alleys.
They followed the long road for a good while, the people hurrying forward like a swarm of bees. The crowds led them to a great square in the center of the city, where in its heart a massive obsidian statue of the Oppressive One stood, rising over forty feet. Kale gaped at the figure; the lustrous black obsidian glinted darkly in the red light and stood stark and grand. Kale had never seen such structure. Vaelon’s towers were the largest in all of Runir yes, but this was …different.
The people flocked to the statue at the center of the square, dropping to their knees in prayer, their hands crossed in strange patterns. As one, they sung in a great and pervading voice songs of the Oppressive One’s power and glory and might. They love him. Kale said in his mind. They worship him. Do they know what he has done to their land?
Ekin lugged him away from the crowd, and down a tight alley, damp and moist. As they made their way through the murk, Kale asked, “Why do they worship him like that?”
“Because it was him that gave them a place in this world.” Said Ekin, “He is their father. He is their god, Kale. He is their savior. He brought them down from the icy wastes of Vorae and into a land they could call home, free of danger. They had not anything before, nothing, just the instincts to survive the ice lands. He gave them their powers in return for their aid during the Ascension, remember? They love him, because they do not see what he did to this land, but what he did for this land.”
Kale nodded, he could not grasp it, but them again he was an Alduri, not an Ilmari. Coming out of the alley, Ekin rounded the corner and came before a small shop, the sign rusted. Ekin swung open the wood door and shoved Kale inside. When the door closed with a clap, the man at the long wooden counter looked up from his readings.
Putting the book down he welcomed them, “What can I do for you?” He asked, his face a light grey with black eyes and spiked black hair. He was an Ilmari.
Ekin walked to the counter, his face still masked by shadow, “I need horses.”
“How many, one, two three?” Asked the Ilmari, “I’ve got many.”
“Two.” Said Ekin gruffly. “Two of your best, your fastest, you strongest. Two of yours that can run day and night without tiring.”
The man grunted, “Strong order comes with a strong price. You have the coin, I have no problem selling you them.”
Ekin fumbled in his coin pouch, bringing out ten illyri’s, the coin of the Ilmari, and set them on the table with a thud.
The man stared down at them blankly, and then back at Ekin, “I’m afraid your offer is short of our requests. For two of our best we charge fifty illyri’s.”
“I have something that you might like to hear first before you decline so quickly.” Ekin said with a grin, leaning closer to the man.
The man frowned, “We do not take bribes here.”
“This is no bribe.” Said Ekin, ushering the man closer until he was speaking in his ear.
Kale could not discern what Ekin said, but when he leaned back the Ilmari looked a him with bulging eyes, “You…” But he never finished, trickling out of his mouth a line of red blood ran down his lips and dripped off his long chin. His hands then began to tremble and his body shuddered until he collapsed on the ground behind the counter.
Ekin gathered the coins back up and stowed them away. From behind the counter, the dead Ilmari’s body dissolved into red vapor and shot into the sky through the roof. Ekin leaped over the low wooden counter and so too did Kale. In the back of the shop, there were shelves of food and wine and mead. Ekin looted the shelves, stuffing bread into his cloak and wine into his pockets. Kale carried few, for he not the space to put it.
Ekin pushed open a wooden door at the back, which led to the stables where the smell of hay and dung drifted through the room. There were ten different horses, all saddled and girdled. Ekin found one to his liking, a great sable steed with legs like tree trunks. He packed the provisions in the saddle and steered the horse out of its kennel.
Kale stood in the hay, seeing the Ilmari drift up into red mist. “Why?” He asked.
“Why what?” Ekin asked, tightening the girdle.
“Why did you have to kill him?” Kale said. “He…” Kale fell short of words.
“Kale,” Ekin sighed. “He was an Ilmari, he worshipped the Oppressive One. He believed in a realm where darkness ruled and where light was nothing. If he had found out you were an Alduri, he would have killed you right there. He was a danger; he was an Ilmari. I did not kill him because he would not give us the horses’. I killed him because he could not know what we were or who we were. If he had found out and he lived, word could have spread that Alduri and a rogue Knight of Abelon were in Tarar. It would have put the entire mission in jeopardy, put our lives in jeopardy. Do you understand now Kale? Death is not meant to deal joyously, and I do not intend it to be.”
Kale nodded and searched through the wooden stables, finding a white horse, elegant and graceful, shining silver in the torchlight. He still killed him, and I watched.
“She’s too bright.” Said Ekin, interrupting his thoughts. “You’ll be seen in the Dark. Best to use a dark one.”
Kale looked up the silver horse one last time then turned to find a muscular brown one, with white socks running up his legs. He pulled him out and stuffed his provisions in the saddle. Ekin led Kale out of the stable and out into a dark street alit with red lanterns. They turned a corner, where the street opened to a barren square, fountain statue spitting out blood red water. Kale shivered, why are these people like this… so foul?
Ekin looked back at Kale, “Saddle up, we ride out to Vorr now.” As soon as Ekin had saddled his horse, he fell from it, slammed with the butt of a sword that swung from the thick shadows. Kale tied to yell as he saw Ekin’s figure slam onto the hard stone street, but his voice was muffled as a great hand closed over it. He thrashed wildly, trying to free himself but the hand was unyielding, never loosening. A heavy black cloth was then thrown over his head, tied tightly around his neck and then he was taken by darkness.
"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."