Visir nudged the single page of parchment out onto the round wooden table. The bloodied hand glowed darkly in the ruddy torchlight and the words beneath danced with light. Every time he looked at the hand, he saw Ior lying face down on the floor, dead. An inner hatred flared within him, great and powerful. He never forgave and he never forgot.
Ioden sat beside him, garbed in long robes of red velvet trimmed in gilded lace that glinted in the flickering light. His dark skin danced with warmth and his hair was pulled back and glistened with oil. Around his neck hung golden chains and his ears drooped with the weight of gilded medallions. The gash on his face still glowed red, inflamed and grotesque, walled with dry cracked blood.
In the tight confines of the circular room, Ioden and Visir were accompanied with five others, who sat beside them in the darkness. A man in a black cloak and a pale face spoke at the sight of the hand. “How did you come by this, Visir?” He asked in a thick Kharaki accent.
“What does it matter, Rahs?” Said a man from Saem, with thin brown hair and a brown leather coat. “Either way, this is significant.”
“Indeed it is, Daem.” Said Visir. “This letter laid on the floor of my home, written with the blood of my servant Ior who stood guard from me a few nights ago.”
“Where were you?” Asked a man named Dockz, from Khondor, along the Mountains. He wore a long hood that veiled his eyes. “Seeing what had happened to Ior, you have been granted luck by the gods above. The Gods of Old Vhalar.”
“I did not gather you today to dispute the gods,” Said Visir.
“Then why have you brought us here?” Asked Rahs. “A strange time of the year for us to meet, is it not?”
“I summoned you all here because of what Ioden has told me and what the death of Ior confirms. Upon our meeting in the Temple of Qvas, Ioden spoke of how he acquired that gash. He says the varran have come back. These men who did this to him were no mere Snatcher or rogue Scirr. They were direct servants of the Enemy, sent down from Harfir.”
“How do you know this?” Said Dockz. “They could have been sent anywhere. They might not have even been from Moram.”
“What other creatures would dare ride a varran?” Said Ioden. “Besides, we have proof they were after us.”
“What proof? I see nothing.” Said Daem.
“Read.” Said Visir, pushing the parchment in front of the man of Saem.
Daem narrowed his eyes and read the spidery text beneath the red hand. “How do you know?”
“It was written with Ior’s blood.” Said Visir. “My room was ravaged as if a great wind had barreled through and scattered everything across the floor. I tell you they were looking for something. Something that I had.”
“More like someone.” Said Lorad, a man of Eaxos, garbed in fine silks from the Isles of Qethos.
“Indeed.” Said Rhas sharply, “They were looking for you, Visir.”
“I know.” Said Visir darkly. “They know, it says it on the parchment. They have wind of our rebellion.”
“But how?” Asked a man cloaked in grey woolen robes of the far north, of the great city of Vaelon, Lord Vhssar. “How could they have possibly know? We have been as quiet as possible.”
“Someone might have told.” Said Rhas. “Someone might have spoken to those who best not be knowing.” He shot a glare at Daem. “Was it you?” He shouted. “You’ve been far too quiet tonight. I don’t like the way you’re acting.”
“You accuse me!” Barked Daem. “I reckon it was you!”
“Silence!” Said Visir in a deep voice. “It was none who sit at this table tonight.”
“Then who, if you think you know?” Said Dockz. “Who would have ratted us out?”
“My brother.” Said Visir, his eyes glowing with flame.
“Maehn?” Said Lorad, perplexed. “He wouldn’t. He’d never.”
“He did.” Said Visir. “I don’t know who he told, but all I know is that he told someone.”
“How?” Asked Dockz. “Why?”
“I do not know.” Said Visir, his head falling in sorrow. “I do not know what led him to do such horrible things.”
“Do you know how much he told?” Asked Rhas.
“Enough.” Said Visir.
“Where is he now, the little traitor?” Asked Lorad. “I want to look him straight in the eyes and ask him why he did it.”
“He’s dead.” Said Visir. “I killed him myself.”
There was a dark silence. “Visir.” Gasped Dockz. “You didn’t…” He trailed off, at a loss for words. “He was your brother…”
“And a traitor.” Said Visir. “I did what needed to be done, what was right. If I wanted to keep our rebellion alive I could not have him living, having already spoken of our plans. I could not have the threat loom over us for him to divulge more information.”
“What do we do know?” Said Daem, “Should we abandon?”
“Never.” Said Visir. “As long as we all live, this rebellion will stay alive. They would have discovered soon enough, before it was over.”
“Yes, but we haven’t even rallied an army.” Said Dockz.
“Indeed,” Said Orann, who sat beside Ioden, draped in long white robes that tumbled down his body. “By the looks of it though, we won’t even live a while longer. Judging by this message, the death of Ior and that gash across Ioden’s face.”
“You speak true.” Said Ioden.
“Too true.” Agreed Visir. “Each one of us is in great danger.”
“You speak of it like it is just danger.” Said Lorad. “We are all escaping death, not danger. It is a far greater enemy to run from, and far faster. We are walking a fine line now, sway but a little and we will fall to the ruin of man.”
“Do not speak so pessimistically.” Said Visir. “There is still much to happen I feel before the end.”
“True.” Replied Ioden. “I feel the same. Though it is also true that the Darkness is approaching. This gash is just the beginning. The Oppressive One suspects something from the south. He might not know exactly what it is, but he will sure not like it. Our goal though is to act fast. Our rebellion is growing, is it not? How much are we in number, Dockz?”
The man of Svarr said in his Svarrian accent, “Not many, Ioden. At least far less than we would have hoped for at this stage in the rebellion.”
“Well how many do we have?” Asked Rhas.
“Two thousand men.” Said Dockz. “Far less than the objected five.”
A groan pervaded the small room.
“How can this be possible?” Said Visir, distressed.
“The Oppressive One’s forces keep a close watch on the Mountains of Svaerdon and so too on the cities that border it. It is there we attain the majority of our rebels. Without them to draw from, we will acquire less and less each day. We can hope to draw from the Mountains of Varrin and the cities of the Alduri and Vaelon, though it is a much longer trek from the north to the south. This will take a lot longer than we dared hope for.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Asked Ioden. “Anything to gather more forces. We don’t have fifty years. Not even ten. This rebellion must happen now and now only. Gather men form the north. Gather men from the south. Gather those who even dwell in the Mountains of Shadow. Anybody. There must be more people to draw from. The Oppressive One’s darkness has almost consumed the land of Runir and the red mists grow each day. Soon there will be nothing.”
“There is a way.” Said Visir, a glare in his eyes.
“What other way could there be?” Asked Lorad. “The rebels fall short, His forces attack us, the Knights are gone, what other way could there possibly be?”
“You all look north.” Said Visir cunningly.
“Aye.” Said Rhas. “That’s the only way to go. Jaahon is the farthest city south in Runir. It ends here.”
“Is it?” Said Visir. “Is it the farthest south we can go? I think not, or have you overlooked the True South.”
The room grew quite and the only sound was the crack and pop of the writhing fingers of flame upon the walls.
“We must look to the lands across the Divide.” Said Visir.
“Are you mad!” Barked Ioden. “You can’t cross the Divide. Not if you want to live.”
“Some might say mad, though some might say genius.” Said Visir.
“And if you’re so genius, who do you think is down there that will help us?” Asked Dockz. “They are all traders, slavers, merchants. They care about nothing but themselves and gold. What do you see in them? They are treacherous and undependable. We need men that have a reason to fight. A true reason. A burning desire in their hearts. We need those men, not rich wealthy slavers or merchants.”
“Men win wars,” Said Visir. “Not hearts or emotions. And that is what they have, men. They have soldiers in great and vast hosts. Far more than we will ever have. They have ships and they have weapons. Or have you forgotten we don’t have any weapons? Before you argue, ask yourself this one question: what other choice do we have?”
A silence consumed the room and Visir leaned back. Mad he was, but mad with a plan.
Visir’s face glowed a lurid orange in the candle light before the shrine. His hands were folded in prayer and he sat on his knees, his eyes closed. Before his face, a stone tablet stood upon a small wooden table. The arched stone was wreathed with a hood of tumbled vines and flowers, effulgent with color. Etched into the stone, the face of Visir’s mother flickered in the dancing light.
She was the reason he was doing this. She was the reason he believed it was possible. His mother desired a land free of this shadow the Oppressive One had set over the land. She had wanted to see flowers and trees, great living green trees with pink or red or yellow or green leaves. She wanted to see the moon glowing at night and the sun beaming during the day. She wanted to see the stars sparkling across the sky and the silvery glow of the sea at dusk when the sundering sun licked with flames across the horizon. She wanted to see all the wonders of the world, all the beauty of nature. She wanted to see it all, how it should be, untouched. Visir admired her for that, and vowed never to give up on her dream.
His prayer ended and he inched open his eyes. Still on his knees he leaned over to the stone tablet and touched his lips to his mothers forehead. He whispered softly, “I will not fail you. I will bring back the trees and the sun.”
“What gods did you pray to?” Asked Ioden.
“The Ancient Ones.” Said Visir. “The ones my mother prayed to. The Gods of Nraivv.”
Standing back up, Ioden spoke in his ear, “I give you all the luck in the world, my friend.”
“And I to you.” Said Visir.
Visir began to walk, slow and graceful. “You will command the rebellion once I am gone, Ioden. I have given that command to you and no one else.”
“I thank you, Visir.” Said Ioden, kneeling humbling and bowing his head. “Though I cannot accept. I am not a leader.”
“You will be.” Said Visir. “And you are. Now get up off the ground and come with me to my balcony.”
On the balcony, the wind hissed by smoothly, almost like silk. The red mist stretched endlessly across the black sky, sparkling with a dark tint. Off in the distance, across the lights of Jaahon and the sandstone towers, the Endless Sea rippled darkly, glistering with red diamonds. The sound of the grey froth fingers crawling up the black sand beach whispered in Visir’s ears as he stared out into he horizon, where he saw nothing but grey and black.
“Sometimes I wonder what my place is on this earth.” He said. “Sometimes I wonder if my name will live on. That’s what I want to do, Ioden. I want to live on after I die. I want to be remembered in the history of Runir. I want to do something people will actually care for. I want to make those who I love be proud to know me. And I thank you Ioden for being with me on my quest to do just that. I could not have asked for a more loyal friend and partner.”
“And I am proud to know you.” Ioden said. “Whatever your outcome, if you comeback our not. If we overthrow the Oppressive One or not. I will remember you as a great man who desired to change the world.”
“I am glad.”
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