A bar of white light trickled through the wrought-iron gates of the prison cell. All else was black as pitch, cool and musty with the stench of decay lingering in the air. They had been in the cell for more than day they knew, and the stench had grown ever more putrid and fetor each hour. They had been thrown in a deep cell, far under the walls of the city, where the stonewalls oozed with slim and crawled with insects of the desert.
Their hands were bound with biting iron shackles, the linking rings heavy and thick. They hardly bothered to move, for the sound would be tormenting—the scraping of rusted iron across stone. It burned their ears until it felt as if they were bleeding. Blood found its way into the cell all to often, whether dried at their wrists or seeping from their noses or crusty at their blackened knees. The smell stayed in the cell, heavy and oppressive like the darkness.
Down in the cells, propped up with his beaten back against the rough stonewall, Visir felt another jab of pain in his chest, stronger and fiercer. The darkness had awoken it. Near his heart, there was a piercing stab, as if there was a dagger in his chest. The pain pulsed until it lanced across his body, immobilizing him. Each time he tried to breathe, the pain lanced like lightning and forced him back into a hunch, his back seizing up at the spine.
The pain was only part of the pain in the deep and dark cell. Visions swam in the shadows, curling like pale mist, almost ghostly. They whispered in his ears in hisses and scrapes. Some wrapped around his frail body like a blanket of pallid mist, shimmering as if wrought of diamonds. The blanket darkened in the heart, where a deep black hole opened in size, consuming Visir alive, plunging him into a world of shadow and death, where he stood alone atop a withered and emaciated hill, drooping with sorrow.
The hill was clad in a fine film of the grey mist and is drifted along the black earth, visions of the dead hanging in the eerie sky like stars. Their faint figures black with grief and mourning. The desolation expanded vast and wicked to Visir’s dark eyes, the dead lowering in their arms carelessly down towards him. The misty hands flaunted down and reached out for him, trying to snag him. They tried to grab, to rip him from his desolation, to bring him to his death.
The hands became overwhelming, and Visir could not fight them any longer, the arms enveloping his body in a flash of white and black. He jolted out of his nightmare as a spear of light pierced his eye, seeping in from the bars of iron. There was a loud moan of steel above and another screech closer to them. The gates were opening; they were being released. Amidst Visir’s distorted visions, there was a flash of shivering red light burning through the thick blackness. It sparked in a loud crack and released tiny rubies into the heavy air, the glints drifting away. There was a face, glowing in the flickering red light, it dark complexion tinted a silvery red. They were coming to bring them out. But why?
The sun devoured him as he hung from a sandstone pillar, the harsh rope biting his arms. Visir had to rest on his decrepit knees just to relieve some of the pain, for most of it blazed in his upper arms, which held him up and kept him from falling on his face. His head hung low, long oily strands of black hair glistened with sweat and beads of brown slipped off the tendrils and sprinkled on the ground. Visir stared at the accumulating black dots of smeared sweat, thin lines streaking from their hearts like arms.
Arstain was shackled in the same fashion beside him, on the next pillar over. They were outside, he knew that much from the sun. But where? Visir did not know, but Arstain did. He had been here, long ago, upon maybe his third visit passed the Divide. He had come as an onlooker, a witness to the ghastly show. Now, he would be the entertainment.
The Garden of Bones it was called, but in the Hhadiri they say, Hirin av Diera. When he had watched along the vine-laden balconies, there was the execution of a knight. He was charged with treachery as well, for they claimed he told the O`eaeeneese of Dreados’ plans. He had denied, but there are none so powerful as to overrule the great Sun King. Here, Arstain watched his head cleaved off as the knight kneeled before the beies and here he would watch again, but from a different angle.
The courtyard pulsed with chants of death, the floor reverberating. It was a like a drum, being beat with mallets of thunderous voices. The chorus rumbled and rumbled, the entire courtyard shaking. Visir heaved up his heavy skull, the sun screaming as he squinted his eyes. So much dark had ailed him greatly. Through the sliver-thin slits and black rims he saw the sandstone rise gradually from the flat floor to a palled dais with a sandstone block, smeared with splatters of deep red. It had been used recently.
The Dreadeen though did not use the beies much, but when they did it was entertainment. They usually saved it for special or exalted deaths, not simple commoners. The exalted officials would be celebrated during their deaths, with almost the entire city watching from the balconies or the ground. Common peasants and folk were either sent down into the dungeons to rot or whipped until death and thrown out into the desert to be eaten by animals. It was foul, but it was their way, and they always dealt death in sacrifice to Alleh.
Visir and Arstain were shacked on the pillars behind the dais, crumbled and broken at the tops, where once great wrought-iron braziers sat. Age had taken root into the stone and laid waste like time does to so many things, crippling and maiming them. Time: the thing that never sleeps. It chases us like an inexorable hand, waiting until we slow and it can snatch us and take us to the ruin of all.
Time, how very little Visir found himself with. Soon, he though, I’ll join my mother. What a reunion it would be, to see her shining face again, to never look into those pitiful stone eyes of her shrine. Though how could he look at her knowing that he’d failed. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He shouldn’t.
The courtyard was completely full, bulging with people. They stood packed like squirming fish, trying to catch a good glimpse at the show that was Visir. The high dais rose in the center of the Garden of Bones, for all to see. The peasants and poor folk gathered tightly around on all sides, so close that they could feel each other’s heart beats thump. They were crudely dressed in haggard linens with tattered seas and patched arms and frayed lacings. Some wore nothing but a hood of cloth, for that was what the peasants were forced to wear, to show their lowness in society. All the poor had to wear a white or red cloth around their head. It distinguished them from the nobles and wealthy.
It was in the sandstone balconies above the square courtyard that the nobles and rich watched, shielded from the gruesome sun by slanting roofs of aged red shingles. Long sweeping tendrils of vines crawled through the bars of the railings, ripe and gleaming with grapes, for they were sarej grapes, sand grapes, specific to Hhad and only grew with sandy soil and intense sunlight. The nobles were garbed in intricate and elegantly flowing dresses and coats and layers, for the more one wore, their wealth showed. Though it also came at a cost, for there were many cases of death due to overheating.
Looking on from the balcony before the dais, was the Sun King, Hhass Arredion, shimmering in gilded beads that trickled down his glistening ruby ruffles of silk and satin. His ears aged with the weight of massive golden medallions wrought like the sun and his eyes sparkled with stars of diamonds. Running down his ebony arms, bands of gold and silver rested in heaps at his wrists and his diamond crown glowed with the inner strands of gold. He sat in a grand throne, the spine fitter with crimson velvet and the silvery wood arms beaded with balls of a dull gold. His face sharp, he raised his hand and stood from his throne, silencing all.
The courtyard faded to a motionless quite, the breathes of dry wind sibilating past. “Let it begin.” Arredion said silkily, sitting back down and caressing his piercing chin his golden fingers. At his words, the courtyard leaped to life again, fiercer and alive. The ground rocked and so too did the balconies, the mass of spectators churning like the ocean, pumping their arms and throwing half eaten food down at Visir and Arstain—some missing and hitting the peasants who exulted with joy at the food.
Visir found out he was first when a lance of pain sprang from his back. He heard a deep swoosh and his shackles were broken off the pillar in a song of shattering iron. Still his hands were bound by the iron bands and h his arms still forced behind his back with his shoulders howling in discomfort. A great burly knight pushed him forward, clad in thick plate armor of a deep black with the same horned helm as the banermen. A crimson sun was emblazoned onto the enamel of the steel, glistening slickly in the searing light.
The knight thrust him along, jeers and shouts hitting him with force and vigor. Up the steps he staggered, his legs burning with flame, but still the long lance of the knights jabbed a his back. Half-blinded, Visir could see the beies before him, a curved black of sandstone, with a wooden mantle that drank the blood. This was where so many before him had met their end. Visir would be next.
Roars of voices beat on him like the sky, heavy and oppressive, almost like the Mist. It was similar, but different. This was louder, fiercer even. He felt his back throw forward towards the ground and he fell hard, slamming his chin into the cracked stone steps. He half-crawled up to the beies and the knight held down his held so that it was placed correctly so it was quick. There was one time when the executioner had to saw the tendons with his axe, and the head came off three minutes later after the first swing.
Visir leaned onto the sandstone block with his head drooped over the wood, his neck flashing pale and white. His hair was moved aside for a clean swipe and he heard the eerie and tormenting song of steel as the executioner slid out his blade from its sheathe. It was a greatsword, the steel dark and malevolent as it glinted in the sunlight. The hilt was ribbed with red virgin leather and the pommel was wrought with a sun, beaded with chips of ruby.
The executioner loomed over Visir like a steeply black tree, his face shrouded under a hood a worn cloth. Arredion silenced the crowd on last time, inclining his head from under the roof and leaning over the bars, spreading his arms wide, “This man has insulted you. He has thrown salt in your eyes. He has insulted Alleh. He will pay for this with blood, with sacrifice. He will see the Sun shine bright!” And a great roar consumed the courtyard, as if a wave of water crashed over the walls.
Visir closed his eyes at the sounds, praying to the Ancient Ones. Though what was he praying to? In his haste, he didn’t know. He only prayed, prayed for something. His mother’s face flashed before him in his black vision, smiling. Will she be proud? Or is it mocking? Are his vision playing with him, tormenting him?
He felt a cool, icy bite of steel lick across his neck, his spine tingling with an odd chill. His heart stopped and his body grew tense, his throat chocking up. He waited, his eyes clenched, a feeling of nothing sweeping over him like a wave of water. He waited for another bite of icy steel, but nothing came, only silence.
Then there was a scream—but not his. It came from below him, as if they were being tortured. The scream was high in pitch, almost a squeal, uttered from a women. Visir flashed his eyes open to see the courtyard engulfed in chaos, the screams growing in voice and number. And still, he leaned on the sandstone beies, ready to be executed. When he glanced around in the erratic confusion, the black-cloaked executioner was nowhere to be found.
The peasants churned like roaring black water along the shores of Jaahon, pushing and shoving. Their screams cried out into the velvety azure sky and they ran, trying to flee. Visir discovered their cause when a volley of arrows leaped over the high sandstone walls, whistling through the dry air like needles and felled dozens, the ocean-blue fletching quivering on their backs or chests as they were toppled over.
Another volley vaulted over the wall, followed quickly by another. Dreados was under siege. Visir jarred away from the beies as a long elmwood arrow clattered on the ground before his face, the arrowhead forged of seastone. He could tell by the blue glint it had in the sunlight and the smell, the smell of salt and the sea. Leaping to his feet, he searched for Arstain, who had been knocked away by a guard. Visir imagined now the Darkdweller being shoved down in the massive mass of people trying to exit the Garden of Bones, a garden that would grow immensely in the coming hours.
From atop his throne, Arredion cried, “Grab arms! We must fight! They have come! O`ean has come! Take up arms! Fight!”
All the guards and knights unsheathed their blades in a song of steel and rushed from the courtyard and out into the streets, making for the turrets and ramparts. The O`eaeen came fast and hard like a fierce wave, sending volley after volley of arrows, dropping hundreds of peasants to their deaths. The people screamed in terror and fright, rushing to and fro like fish escaping a shark. As Visir ran down the dais, he saw a mother and her ululating baby both fall to the ground, arrows protruding from their chest and back.
The nobles above in their balconies scrambled like rivers to the stairs, trying to escape back into their wealthy manors and keeps. Visir watched the Sun King fly from his throne, escorted by five guards all clad in thick gilded plate armor and horned helms of silver encrusted with rubies. They were his Sunguard, the men who were sworn to protect the king, the loftiest of positions of knighthood in the city.
Another wave of arrows fell like rain, some clattering against the stone and some falling soundlessly into flesh, the screams of the struck pervading the square courtyard. Visir joined the crowd of many as soon as the O`eaeenese soldiers leaped over the walls and stormed the ramparts, for they had thrown up great ladders of wood. The wall of Dreadeen guards held strong before the parapets, but the O`eaeenese were too many, flying up the ladders and leaping over the walls with spears and axes and swords, all forged from their secreted seastone, shimmering a pale grey-blue in the blazing sunlight.
The soldiers overwhelmed the guards upon the walls, running through he seams like rivers of steel, trickling down the walls and into the city. All through the city, the O`eaeenese plundered, flying over the walls and slaughtering. The soldiers were clad in a silver ringmail, and boiled leather with thin plates of silver and deep faded blue scales of armor, emblazoned with a navy serpent with tentacles wending through the chest.
Roars of battle besieged the sky, and the sounds of death filled the ears. On Visir ran, for he had not his blade, Frostbite, for it was taken when he was taken prisoner. The sea of soldiers flooded like a deluge into the courtyard, taken many captive and killing many more. It seemed now that the threat of death loomed larger than when he was on the beies, for it was unknown unlike staged. He found his prayers to succeed when he felt a ragged black cloth envelop his face, and his body thrown to the ground where his hands were vehemently bound with iron. How usual this had become to Visir, finding his hands in shackles.
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