A Vision of Ash (pt. 1)

The Beginning
The Beginning of Part Two
The Beginning of Part Three
The Beginning of this Part

“I won’t hear another word on it.”

Telfor’s shoulder’s slumped at the forcefulness of the words. He knew better than anyone when Jasha’s mind was made up there was no changing it. He stood by the fire, arms crossed as her shaking hands splashed water into her cup and the table surrounding.
Her flesh was pale and tinged with the unwholesome grey of burn out. It wouldn’t kill her. Not by itself. And she would recover in time with rest, but without a healer complications were possible.

Through his concern for his wife, Telfor felt Laurin’s hand on his shoulder its presence comforted him. He touched Laurin’s hand with his own. He appreciated the tenderness, with everything they had faced in the past month he felt tired.
Looking around the bar he saw soldiers of The Reborn had started to arrive for the muster. The date was for only a couple days and he still didn’t know the fallout for bringing the prisoner to Arnhilde, if that was even still what he planned to do.
Before he could give that thought too much attention, Telfor noticed Vahkragg in conversation with one of the soldiers. The giant responded with what would be unnoticable to most but to Telfor who had known the plainsman for years it was clear whatever news he had received was bad.

“Captain. Pike’s Reach.”

Telfor’s vision grew long, somehow he already knew.

His mind retreated and he physically turned away, not hearing if Vahkragg finished explaining that his home had fallen. Laurin hurried to keep up, his words buzzed in Telfor’s ears, their meaning drowned out by the rushing of blood.
The front door of the Inn slammed open before him. He felt a pressure holding him back and spun around to dislodge it saw Laurin there, and Jasha struggling after them aided by Vahkragg. The concern in their eyes brought him back to reality for the moment. The four companions stood together in the cool evening air, the night felt so peacefully ambivalent to all the suffering beneath it.

“Pike’s Reach. The undead we saw on the road. It’s gone.”

The words left Telfor in a disconected monotone. Neither Jasha nor Laurin had words in the face of the news. An arctic whisper from behind Telfor however managed to respond.

“Pike’s Reach is gone?”

Telfor turned, Pan and Zsófia stood having just arrived from around the corner. The revenant’s eyes reflected the moonlight barely containing the startling rage his kind bore.

Telfor answered him with his eyes, he couldn’t find the words to fit the feelings in his chest.

“I met a family at the gate, they had come from there.” Zsófia said quietly.

Pan slowly rounded on her, the glow in his eyes and the mist on his breath steadily increasing “You knew? You knew and you didn’t tell me?”

Zsófia took half a step back involuntarily, clearly not understanding his rage.

“I didn’t think… I didn’t know it mattered.”

“You didn’t know it mattered that my home was destroyed?”

Before things could move any further Jasha positioned herself between the two of them and embraces Pan. The unexpected tenderness distracted the revenant from his anger.

“She didn’t know Pan, she couldn’t have known.” Jasha whispered, a mixture of soothing and stern, “Don’t be angry at her.”

“That’s right.” Jasha’s words brought Telfor’s anger back to clarity, “This is the Reeve’s fault. We warned Arnhilde of the undead, they should have sent soldiers to intercept them before anyone had been harmed.”

There was a pause as everyone considered that. It was true, Pike’s Reach was not far, if word was only just starting to arrive of the village’s destruction then there would have been more than enough time to stop this tragedy between when Arnhilde had received their warning and the attack. It made no sense.

“Pan, start the muster early. Round up every soldier already in Capital and make sure they’re battle ready as soon as possible. I’m going to the courthouse now to get answers from Arnhilde.”

Laurin and Jasha exchanged looks, Telfor knew what those looks meant, they were worried he was about to do something impulsive. He supposed they were probably right.

“At least take the Priest with you.” Laurin said, “If you don’t like their answers you’ll at least need their gold.”

Jasha nodded, supporting her weight against Vahkragg as subtly as she could. Her colour was looking even worse, almost enough to turn Telfor away from his anger. But he knew her better than to try and coddle her.

In a flurry of activity, Pan left to organise the muster while Vahkragg retrieved the priest. Telfor quietly helped Jasha back to her seat and left Laurin to keep an eye on her, letting himsef momentarily let go of his anger to feel grateful for having them both.
As Telfor waited for Vahkragg to return with the prisoner, Zsófia approached him nervously. The old soldier realised the girl must be quite confused and frightened.

“Telfor, what’s going on?”

“That’s what I’m hoping to find out. Pike’s Reach is where Pan and I grew up, where many of our family’s still live.” He winced at the words, praying they did still live, “There should have been no chance of even so small a village being overrun with forewarning though. University scholar’s could have scried the undead and soldiers destroyed them without issue. Someone fucked up, and I intend to know who.”

“And then what?”

“Then…” It wasn’t that he didn’t know what then, it was that saying it out loud was a step further than he was willing to commit to just yet, “We will come to that when we come to that.”

Vahkragg emerged from the Inn, the prisoner being led firmly by his side. Zsófia’s expression seemed no less fearful than before she had asked, least of all with the further questions the presence of the priest in the garb she could not recognise as bearing the symbol of the church of Atyx, but she didn’t ask, and Telfor didn’t volunteer any further explanations. She simply made her way inside, seeking the familiarity of healing duties in aiding Jasha as Telfor and Vahkragg marched with purpose into the night in the direction of the courthouse.

Only two months this time. Gonna see if I can’t find it in my to make another one next week. We’re in the final stretch of this story, I’ll be aiming to wrap it up and start on another new unrelated story. Maybe I’ll take this story and edit it all together after, not sure yet.

Thanks everyone who’s read anything I’ve written. I appreciate it, didn’t think I’d actually manage to get down as much as I did when I started writing. Maybe by the end of they year I’ll have a second full story done. I’d feel pretty proud of that.

– Zairron

Concord of the Reborn (pt. 11)

The Beginning
The Beginning of Part Two
The Beginning of this Part

The chill of morning bore the deeper cutting edge of winter come early on the soft wind. Zsófia walked a step or two behind Rubin and Pan, yawning as often as breathing. She’d fallen out of the habit of early mornings while staying at The Valiant Retreat and on top of that Pan set a punishing pace.

Turning her focus inside Zsófia examined the sensation of where once The Horned God had infested her. The chilling silence that seemed to radiate from the wards Edda had bound the shard was numbing and unsettling. Checking on it brought her comfort despite the unwholesomeness of it.
Returning her focus to the world outside herself, Zsófia looked over at Pan and Rubin. Ever since the visit to the cathedral their already tense relationship had grown downright icy. It made her nervous. As much as she wanted to trust Pan, she saw him as a friend and thought he felt the same to her, his temper was frightening.
The group continued in silence as the sun rose and settled high into the sky bringing welcomed warmth and an even more welcomed sight ahead.

“Capital,” Rubin declared, “The Heart of the Empire. Seat of the Throne. Home of diplomacy and commerce.”

Zsófia’s eyes widened in awe as with every step closer the city on the horizon seemed to grow in size and imperiousness. After Verwich she thought she had known what a city could be, but for all it’s winding and sprawling streets and character it held not a candle to Capital in terms of majesty.

“It’s made of stone,” she said.

“That’s right, magically and alchemically reinforced stone at that.” Rubin lectured, “It is said that an enemy army employing standard seige weapons could not even tanish the stone if they spent a year and a day battering on it.”

Zsófia blinked at him. In her home the act of collecting enough wood to build a single house was a dangerous and slow task. The rituals to placate the forest, hunters to ward off any beast, monsters, or fae, all on top of the people needed to chop down and transport the wood. How much work must enough stone to build a city require?

Eventually they arrived at the gates. A great stone arch which can be sealed with steel and thick wood looms above casting a shadow over the crowds of people waiting outside. Almost as impressive to Zsófia as the city itself are the number of people making their ways in and out of the gates.

“A lot of soldiers at the gates,” Rubin stated quietly.

Pan’s gaze remained fixed on the crowd ahead.

“A lot of people coming through as well,” Rubin continued, “There’s no occasion to attract people, has something happened I wonder?”

The question hangs heavy. Looking around with Rubin’s hint Zsófia recognises the haggard and weary looks on a great number of the people who don’t seem to be trying to enter the city.
Zsófia’s felt torn with wanting to help them and not knowing how to. It seemed to her like they were being ignored, left to linger outside the walls waiting for something that may not be coming. Stepping away from the line and her companions, Zsófia approaches a girl around her own age who seemed to be listlessly waiting.

“Excuse me,” she asked, “Are you alright?”

The girl looked back suspiciously, glanced back over her shoulder before she nodded guardedly.

“I’m sorry, I just noticed there seemed to be a lot of people waiting here. You seem like something had happened.”

A look covered the girls face, a powerful sadness, “We’re from Pike’s Reach. We were attacked. The whole town. Destroyed by undead.”

The knowledge struck Zsófia like a blow. The undead force must have been the same that Telfor and his band had encountered on their way to her village. Did Telfor and Vahkragg not make it in time to warn, or was the warning not taken seriously enough?
She wanted to help the girl, but there was nothing she could do. Edda had warned her only to use her magic as sparingly as possible lest it weaken the wards on her. Beyond that she had no money, nothing else she could give her.

“I am so sorry,” she whispers.

The girl nods acknowledgement of the platitude blinking back tears. Rather than linger unhelpfully Zsófia returned to join Pan and Rubin in line.
Before long the group are searched and permitted entrance to the city. Once inside Pan turned and addressed them.

“I’m going to find Telfor and deliver the High Priestesses letter. Zsófia I’d recommend you stay with Rubin, Capital is not always safe for the unitiated.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.”

“Make lodging arrangements for Zsófia. You know the muster date and schedule for The Reborn, make sure you’re there.”

“Of course, sir. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Rubin answers, his voice thick with annoyed sarcasm.

Without reaction to the scholar’s tone, Pan departs with just a moment spared for a friendly smile and nod in Zsófia’s direction.
The moment he was out of sight, Rubin let out a long tired sigh.

“At last!” he said with a smile to Zsófia, “I am very sorry you had to be subject to one of his moods. Try not to think too poorly of us as your hosts, Pan has a lot on his shoulders right now and I do unfortunately have to take credit for much of that. Hopefully his mood will be improved by the time we re-unite with him. Until then, let us find some lodgings for you. Would you rather join me in church lodgings, or perhaps you’ve spent enough time with the clergy and would prefer an inn?”

An involuntary grimace crosses Zsófia’s face before she could answer, the recollection of Edda and her ambush still fresh. As much as she came to appreciate the old woman, Zsófia still felt the betrayal.

“An Inn it is,’ Rubin interjected, “I’ll take you to the Pikeman’s Rest. It’s where most of The Reborn with no-where else end up. Don’t worry we’ll find you an actual room too, not just flop lodgement, I think we owe you that much at least!”

And with that Rubin led her through the paved streets of Capital, prattling on with the historical relevance of whatever caught his interest. Zsófia however only half listened, her mind was on the girl outside the gate and thinking back on her own journey wondering if there was anything she could have done differently that may have gotten Telfor and his warning to Capital in time to save that girl’s home.

In my defense, it was a much shorter wait between story entries than last time. Only three months this time. Maybe next time it’ll only be one month, or even less! Imagine the possibilities!

– Zairron

Concord of the Reborn (pt. 10)

The Beginning
The Beginning of Part Two
The Beginning of this Part

The alley swims in Telfor’s vision. His head throbs where he’d been struck. If the Anir find them again he won’t be much help.
Jasha’s unnatural ashen pallor also worries him. She’d burned herself out with magic to protect him. The tremor in her hands a bad sign.
That left Vahkragg and Laurin. Capable soldiers, but the Anir were dangerous. The best bet will be avoiding them.

“Give me Diatter,” He says, “Jasha, can you run?”

“I’ll manage.”

Telfor clenches his jaw, but takes her at her word, “We’re in bad shape for a fight in the open so plan is we’re taking the prisoner straight to the courthouse as quick and quiet as we can manage. Either those killers are still after us and nearby, or they’ll be back soon with reinforcements. Either way we don’t want to be here any longer.”

Giving the captive priest a shove, Telfor leads the group deeper into the labyrinthine back streets of Capital.
Laurin moves to the front of the group. Keeping an eye ahead and checking corners for dangers while Vahkragg keeps to the rear. Laurin’s knowledge of the city is as good as Telfor’s own and he takes them through an unlit path avoiding main thoroughfares expertly.
The priests neighbourhood is far behind them when Laurin starts increasing the pace. They’re almost running when Telfor notices Jasha’s breath growing more ragged and gasping. Glancing back at her he’s immediately startled by her stark paleness.

“Laurin, we have to-“

Shut!” Jasha hisses as sharply as she can while staying quiet.

Telfor looks back at her again. She signs that they’re being tracked by two hidden enemies. Looking around, Telfor doesn’t notice any sign of it, but knows enough to trust Laurin and Jasha here.
Suddenly Laurin ducks into a dark shallow dead-end alley and draws his shield and sword as the others fall in behind him. Jasha all but collapses on the dirt the moment she stops running, tremor spread from her hands all through her body now.

Telfor drops his grip on the prisoner to catch her and Diatter immediately tries to make a run for it only to be caught by Vahkragg within just a couple of steps and dragged into the dark alley.

“Make a sound and your ancestors will regret it.”

The sounds of Jasha struggling to supress a cough and draw a breath seems so loud so loud in the silence of the night.
As slowly and quietly as he can Telfor draws his own blade. Still feeling far from stable he expects it won’t matter much, but it felt better to be armed.

“Be not afraid.”

The tone carried the authority of absolute confidence as it rung in their ears. A strangely resonante voice that seemed to come from all directions at once. Casting their gaze around in search of the source they found no sign amongst the shadows of the alley.

“Your sins need not be mortal. Turn over the sinner and your will be permitted reprieve.”

The offer made sense. The stories of Anir’s killers made them sound inhuman. Unstoppable and emotionless. If Diatter was their target, whether they sought to rescue or kill him, they had no reason to risk an unecessary fight and from where Telfor stood the offer was tempting.
The Anir were stronger and faster than natural people, likely enhanced by ether stones beneath concealed within their attire. On their side only Vahkragg and Laurin were in any shape to fight and even if they were a match for the Anir ordinarily their magically enhanced abilities were a significant handicap.
He didn’t like the idea of bringing a second failed contract report to Arnhilde in a row almost as much as he didn’t like the idea of having their corpses found by the guard in the morning, but only marginally.

“I have no desire to stand at odds with the Pantheon, but I assure you my detainment of this man is lawful.”

There was a pause.

“Whose authority do you serve?”

Telfor clenched his jaw. Drawing their more powerful foe into a dialogue had been a win, but the whole reason they were on this contract was to keep the Pantheon in the dark.

Fucking politics.

“I have a writ signed by the Reeve empowered by the authority of the Crown to detain this Priest.”

And now he’d done it. Whatever kind of incident Arnhilde had been trying to avoid was now in motion. He prayed that he’d gambled on the right horse.

“I will approach to inspect the writ. Come to the alley entrance.”

You’ll go way of a lone tax payer that’s what Laurin had said would happen. Glancing over Telfor could see Laurin hadn’t changed his mind on how he expected this to go.
With a heavy sigh Telfor fished the writ from his pocket and before anything else he felt Jasha pull him into her arms as she kissed him deeply.

“Leave Sara without a father and I will never forgive you.”

Pressing his forehead against hers in silent answer, Telfor pulled away and stepped out into the alley mouth ready to be devoured.
As if materialising from the shadows themselves, the Anir was there before it registered to Telfor that he could see them. The figure was just as indistinguishable here as they had been in the fight. They were tall and strong. But clothed and masked as they were neither gender nor enthnicity were recognisable.
The writ was exchanged and examined before being wordlessly returned. The figure examined Telfor wordlessly.

“Why did you not simply request this man from The Church? That is the usual manner for such matters.”

“I’m just a mercenary, these were my instructions.”

“Why was the arrest of a low ranking priest within Capitol assigned to mercenaries? Surely the Guard would have been cheaper and more efficient.”

Telfor resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It seemed the stories of the Anir were just exaggerated, as deadly fighters as they had been they were quite transparent with their fishing for information.

“I’m sure you know better than I. Is there anything I could tell you that would change what happens here?”


“Then let’s stop wasting time. I don’t intend to throw away mine and my companions’ lives for a contract, you can have him if you’re willing to risk forcing the Crown’s hand by interfering in their carrying out of justice. Or you can let us go, and we can have a conversation about keeping your involvement out of our report.”

“Your assessment of the situation is audacious, but not at odds with ours.” The mask concealing the Anir’s expression made the exchange even more offputting than the threat to their lives already was, “We request that you leave our presence secret, both officially and unoffocially. Is this acceptable to you?”

Telfor felt a sickly wave of relief flood him, tainted by suspicion born from the immediate and uncomplicated acceptance from the Anir, “It is.”

“Then may Anir walk with you this Night”

And almost before the words were out of their mouth, the Anir was gone as if dispersed by the shadows. They were probably still nearby, Telfor supposed, likely intending to follow them the rest of the way. Anir was the God of secrets and knowledge after all. By the end of the night if the Anir didn’t know everything about the four of them and their families, that would be the greatest miracle he could imagine.

Telfor raised his voice to the others within the alley, “Come on, we’re free to go. Let’s not give them the time to change their minds.”

Been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Hopefully it’ll be a lot less long before the next one. But no promises. I like writing, but starting things is hard even when I like doing them.

I considered abandoning this story and starting something else. For one thing it’s been so long I’ve forgotten a lot of detail. For another there’s some huge continuity errors and other problems that giving up and starting over could potentially avoid.

But I’ve been learning recently that doing something badly is better than giving up cause it’s not perfect.

It’s a hard lesson, but not one that’s got much to argue so I’m gonna try and find a bit of an ending for this mess before I make a new mess. And besides, I think some of the prose in this story hasn’t been half bad.

– Zairron

Back Again

“Thank you,” it submerged his hands into the bowl of warm water before it. His hands trembled as he washed the grime from his skin. It’s focus was turned inwards, devoted to the task with ritualistic solemnity.

It was so much like him.

I couldn’t see him. It washed itself, and I stared at the ghostly blue glow of the early evening sky and found my mind was even more distant. The light was fading but we had an hour before it was entirely black. I set myself adrift in the dreamlike vibe, the coolness of the air and the the subdued sounds of nature carried me away from the situation I had found myself in.

It was peaceful.

“Umm, excuse me?” hearing Jannklan’s cherished voice tore me from the serene place. For a moment, I thought he was back.
Where he should have been, his changeling filled the space. The same hair, teeth, eyes… everything the way they had been when he was alive. Of course it was impossible for him to be here, I decided I must have gone made.
On reflex I accepted the bowl, filthy towel where the water had previously been but I couldn’t even think to do anything with it.
“Are you okay?” it asked.

“Jannklan?” I whispered at last, knowing it couldn’t be him, but unable to say anything else.

It looked at me, twisting Jannklan’s face into an expression of confusion that didn’t match his. Mocking me by being so much like him, but at once so alien, he spoke, “I’m sorry, I don’t know that name.”

My eyes burned as my tears welled up and burst forth, running streaming lines down my cheek. I wept with neither dignity nor grace, the confirmation hurt all the more despite the fact I already knew.
My reaction startled it, it… he reacted as most would when witnessing a stranger bursting into unprovoked tears and froze, stuck between the desire to help and to escape. Kindness won out in the end, he took the bowl from my hands and guided me into the house and a seat by the table.  Perhaps a part of me still believed it was him, for I trusted it and let it guide me while I took refuge deep inside myself, a dimly glowing mote of myself.
It stoked the fire and brought me tea. It sat with me until I crawled out from the hole I had dug inside my chest and looked at it. It smiled, but not with Jannklan’s smile. That hurt, but I think it also helped.

“I am sorry,” my voice cracked. I washed my face, while I was in the darkness it had brought me the bowl I had given him with fresh water and a clean towel. “You look just like someone dear to me. He died.”

The fire roared, but could not keep the cold entirely at bay. An involuntary shiver invaded me, but I ignored the discomfort. This was more important to me.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” his tone was quiet and low, “And for reminding you of him.”

I shook my head, and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. It felt easier to comfort than it is to be comforted, “It’s not your fault you look like him.”

For what feels like minutes, we sat in awkward silence, neither of us able to speak. I close my eyes and remember the day I buried Jannklan, I watch as they lowered him into the grave, as the priest spoke and as the people left.
Drawing reassurance from the memory, I felt the strength to ask, “What’s your name?”

The question seemed to strike him. His face ran a gamut of emotions, so transparent I knew his answer before he said it, “I don’t remember.”

“It seems strange now that I think of it, but I didn’t realise until you asked me. When I think back, I remember seeing you in the forest and deciding to ask you for help because I was so dirty. Other than that, I don’t remember a single thing.”

This was too cruel. Just like in the stories my father used to tell, spectres of the lost returning from beyond like solid ghosts of the past. Wearing the bodies of the dead and the lost with none of the essence that made them who they once were. For me to have Jannklan come back to me like that, straight out of fairy story.

It was simply far too cruel.

“You can stay here for tonight, tomorrow we’ll think about what to do with you.”

He slept where Jannklan used to, I had no spare bed and the winter cold was too unforgiving not to. Having him beside me, even if it was only his body, was bittersweet. Sometimes it’s nice just to have someone, even if it isn’t who you wish it was. Whether this changeling was him, back from the dead, or something else entirely, I didn’t waste my time thinking about it.


Sorry for the long time between stories, here’s a short snippet as I try and worm my way back into the habit.

Hope you enjoy it,

Blood and Lies (pt. 19)

Part Nineteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)
Part Seventeen: Blood and Lies (pt. 17)
Part Eighteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 18)

The week passes smoothly, the bounty hunters and the villagers enjoying their time together sharing their knowledge and skills with each other. The wounded recover quickly and in a few short weeks they are preparing to leave the village and continue their journey. Late in the afternoon while Zsófia is inspecting their wounds, Luke’s voice broadcasts a message to throughout the village, “They’re back! The hunters are home!”

“I’m sorry, I have to go meet them. I’ll check your wounds after,” Zsófia rises quickly from her chair and with an apologetic bow dashes from the house. With her departure Vahkragg shrugs his shirt back into place and the pair follow her outside.
The village is alive with people, almost two hundred people have crowded in the centre of the square. Children reunite with their parents who in turn honour the elders who welcome them home. After weeks of the village feeling empty, the sudden density of people is a surprising shift. The hunters carry the spoils of their hunt, stacks of furs, tusks and meat representing a vast treasure trove for a community such as this.
Within the centre of the crowd Pan is being introduced by Jacob to a pair of hunters, who seem to be Luke’s parents. The elderly farmer’s wife notices the pair stood by the edge and waves them over.

“Jack, Aubrey,” she says to the hunters, “This is Telfor and Vahkragg, along with Pan they helped slay the Anathema we were telling you about”

Jack puts his son down and turns to greet the pair of them. Telfor can see the couple are both very fit, though still quite young. He takes the hand Jack offers as greeting, the hand calloused and strong though differently to Jacob’s or his own.
The hunter’s demeanour is warm and welcome, his voice booms with a practised volume as he greets them, “We are in yer debt, strangers. Without ye we I dinnae want t’think what may’ve been.”

“It was nothing,” Telfor’s dismisses gruffly, “I have a daughter of my own.”

“Then you understand why it weren’t nothin’,” Aubrey interrupts firmly, her hand on her son’s shoulder holding him close to her, “We don’t have much currency, but I want t’ repay ye f’r helping us.”

Telfor shrugs noncommittally, he always felt uncomfortable accepting payment without a contract but he wasn’t so well off that he could refuse. For the moment however the conversation moves away from business, as Jack says, “I have to go now, Zsófia will want me for the sacrifice.”

The hunter pats his son on the head and hugs his mother before heading back through the crowd towards the clearing in the direction Zsófia had headed before. The crowd seems to be slowly dispersing as families and couples leave for their homes and some privacy. Aubrey leads the group back towards Jacob’s home, insisting the three visitors join them.
The seven of them are seated around the table, Aria provides refreshments for the table this time including an unusual and potent alcoholic beverage unlike any Telfor had tried back in the kingdom. Leading the conversation effortlessly Aubrey establishes herself as a supremely confident and charismatic woman. She draws the story of the fight with the Anathema from them, praising their valour and praising Verumalleus’ sacrifice in particular. She keeps them talking about their fond memories with the crusader, skillfully maintaining the positive mood.

“I wish I could have met her, she sounds like my kind of woman,” she concludes with a smile to Pan who looks away into the distance. For a moment Telfor wonders if she had been flirting with the Revenant, but decides it best not to think to hard on. At least Pan seemed to be being helped thinking of Verumalleus positively.

The sacrifice keeps Jack and Zsófia away for of the rest of the day, Aubrey explains that the reason the hunt takes so long is the need to capture the razorback alive. Almost half of the month long expedition involves tracking, pursuing and funnelling the monster into trap. When a child is born or elder dies, one of the domesticated pigs is a worthy sacrifice but during the birth and death of the year, known in the kingdom as the solstices, the Wild God grows hungry and demands a meal. The razorback is trapped in a pit out in the forest, far enough from the village so it wouldn’t be a threat if it passed the pit on the first funnel.
When Jack and Zsófia returns the next night, Aubrey explains, there would be a huge party to celebrate the Wild God’s satiety. “I think everyone will enjoy having some outsiders to show off for as well.”

They drink well into the night, Vahkragg the only one remaining sober despite drinking as much as anyone else. Aria is the first to leave for bed, with Luke being made to turn soon after by his mother in spite of his protests. Vahkragg loses interest in the conversation and turns in closer to midnight. Telfor feels a pleasant lethargy from the drink to his thoughts. Trading war stories with Jacob’s hunting stories brings him back to his youth. As the older men begin to slow Aubrey takes Pan to continue drinking with other young folk, if he’d been a bit younger or more sober Telfor might have gone with them. He had noticed Aubrey’s flirting had started to be reciprocated by Pan and he was concerned it may lead to something.
In the end his legs disagreed with his mind’s suggestion to follow them, and so forced to leave it in the hands of fate the grey soldier bids his older drinking buddy a good night and carefully makes his way to bed. As he struggles with the complicated process of laying down his groggy mind pointlessly wonders as to where Rubin had been. Closing his eyes, as well into the bedroll as he can manage the pessimistic part of his brain thinks, “I should enjoy my rest, I’ll deal with whatever mess they’ve been making tomorrow.”

First Movement Crescendo

Part Nineteen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
Part Fourteen: Adagio under Lantern’s Glow
Part Fifteen: Into Destiny
Part Sixteen: A Perfect Storm
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno
Part Eighteen: A Taste of Eternity

“I have a sister, but not through blood,” I answer, wishing to make her happy with my answer.

“That won’t explain it,” the man Skandha interrupts, “The condition doesn’t come from his human ancestry.”

“What are you talking about,” I demand, growing frustrated by their cryptic talking about me as if I weren’t right here.

“Perhaps a sibling on the other side?” the beautiful woman asks Skandha as they continue to ignore me.

“Possibly,” he says in an unconvinced tone, “I don’t know if they even work that way.”

“But he could be half, or at least only a part of it?” the woman with the painful eyes asks.

“It is possible,” he repeats in the same uncertain tone.

I lean back in my seat, containing my frustration. As much as I want to shout and demand they stop ignoring me, I’m not confident enough that whatever reason they wanted me for requires me to remain alive and in one piece.
The beautiful woman returns to her position on the other side of the table, the three who had spoken continue to discuss me with the same veiled language they’ve used thus far. I can’t see Raktabīja but I can sense his menacing presence behind me, observing me silently. The fourth Mara neither joins the others in their conversation, nor looks at me. He seems entirely focused on his tea, which he has been drinking with an almost ritualistic intensity since it was poured.

“Can we still do it with just him?” the pain woman asks.

“I can’t say,” frustration has entered his voice, though it is restrained, “The message is… vague. Unlike the machine they use we have to sift manually through impossible amounts of information. We’re mostly working from guesswork.”

I wonder if this message might be what prompted them to want me, but if so I couldn’t think of who might have sent it or why. After that he makes even less sense, I suppose they may be competing with another of the cartels. The machine may be one of the registers the guard captains use at the wall, but that would imply that one of the cartels had managed to steal a register. That would be suicide, if it was even possible. The aristocracy guard the registers as jealously as they guard anything to do with the Aberrant, stealing one would bring down the wrath of the Nobility.
The talking stops briefly, the woman with the hateful eyes seems deep in thought and the other two await a response from her. I look down at my tea, suspicious of whether another sip would return me to that place of understanding again, or if more could have an even stronger effect.
I take the cup in my hand. The pressure from the eyes of the leader begins to build in me again. I grit my teeth and curse her silently, throwing the cup back and swallowing the contents as rapidly as I can without meeting her gaze.
The darkness and cold from before materialises instantly, my mind is flung violently into the pandemonium in contrast to the gentle drift from the earlier sip. Before reality completely vanishes I hear the beautiful woman ask, “Was it really okay to let him drink that?”

The woman with the wicked eyes replies with sadistic malice, “If not, we’ve already learned there are others.”


I come to in the other place. The maelstrom of darkness and light, where heat and cold exist together. I feel the same sense of tranquillity as last time. This place feels like home. I feel connected to this place, like everything is as one. The surging chaos that makes up this place tears through me where my body would be, but I am unharmed. Releasing the desperate connection to form I had never known I carried with me, I spread across everything and become everything. I feel myself burning at the centre of the sun, covering the earth in every stream and ocean, my bones are the mountains and every breath of wind is the air from my lungs. I understand the innermost natures of things, the truth and freedom from constraint is paradise.
I see the past and the future together as one. I see all this is beside what could have been. I see the people I have hurt, by my presence as well as my absence and I weep. I remember now why I went back last time. Not from her voice but by my own choice, by my shame of my failings and the desire to be better. I reach out across eternity to the distant extremes I have spread and pull myself back together. Denying myself paradise is the same as being in hell but until I make things better I cannot stay.

“I want to go back!” I cry into the void. In the space beyond and within everything I feel the presence respond to my cry. I can feel it watching me, I can feel it has always watched me, and everyone else. I feel so small before it.

“Please, I can’t stay here.” I cry as loudly as I can, “There are people I have left behind who are suffering because of me. Let me go back and make it better.”

It acknowledge my request, sending me back through the immeasurable distance and time to where I had been. Before I return it tells me a secret truth I cannot contain within myself. At once I am back in the room with the Mara, the memory of the other place a fading dream. The only thing that has returned with me is the sense of purpose I’d discovered.
It is as if no time at all had passed while I had been in the other place. Even with the last vestiges of the experience fade from my memory I feel altered by the experience. Under the gaze of the woman with the cruel eyes I feel no pain. My body feels refreshed, the damage from my fall completely healed.

“I think it worked,” she says to the man on her right, his expression one of silent awe.

I grin across the table at her, my confidence completely returned, “I think it did too.”


Blood and Lies (pt. 17)

Part Seventeen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)
Part Fifteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 15)
Part Sixteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 16)

Oliver’s thoughts are vague as he following the scholar as he storms out of the house. He cannot say what it is he hopes to achieve by following him, simply that he feels that it is the right thing for him to do. They pass the line of houses and are well into the clearing towards the forest before Rubin finally stops. Oliver waits at a respectful distance, quietly watching as the scholar seems to deflate as the anger that had been driving him seems to disperse.
Letting out a loud sigh, Rubin sits heavily on the grass staring out towards the forest. Still uncertain Oliver remains distant until his friend beckons him to join him. The pair sit together in the space between the village and forest, silently watching and listening to nature around them.

“Do you think I was wrong to hate her?” Rubin’s question surprises Oliver, they’d enjoyed each others company discussing magic theory but this was the first personal issue they’d spoken of.

“I don’t think you were wrong. Your home, your family, it must be difficult to see her and to see how and see everyone accepting her with what she represents to you,” Oliver states slowly, trying to be diplomatic with the unfamiliar topic, “Zsófia seemed like she understood and respected that. Do you think you were wrong?”

Rubin looks up at Oliver searchingly, “I don’t know.”

The awkward silence extends between them. Oliver watches Rubin carefully through the corner of his eyes, the scholar seeming deep in thought with his head rested on his knees. The sorcerer thinks back on his own life, his master’s magical tradition was seen by many as the same as a practitioner of black magic. The hermit sage tradition predated the kingdom and had been replaced by the universities and churches, now they were distrusted and often the first blamed whenever any magical crimes occurred. He empathised with Zsófia in that manner, but even more with the curse of her birth deciding her life for her.
He knew he couldn’t tell Rubin about the truth of why he had been given to the hermit as a child. The secret of the affair between the Earl and the Princess could never come out, but the feeling of kinship for Zsófia made him want to help his friend understand.

“I never knew my parents,” Oliver’s voice surprise him more than they do Rubin, he hadn’t decided what he would say and a lifetime of secrets had taught him to always consider his words, “I was given to my master as a baby to be raised in his tradition.”

With Rubin’s gaze upon him Oliver continues to speak, hoping he will realise what he was going to say soon, “He was the closest thing I ever had to a father and when I was hardly more than a boy, he was arrested for practising black magic. It wasn’t true, but everyone knows us hermits are wicked so they took him anyway. He made me hide so they wouldn’t know I was there. He never came back. When you and your companions came to arrest me, I hated you. To me you were the same people who took him from me.”

Oliver’s momentum peters out, uncertain of his point. He hopes his friend would understand what he’d meant.


Back in the village, Vahkragg wakes feeling the same bedroll as last time beneath him. The heat of fever has taken him, likely due to his previous overexertion. He senses he is not alone this time, the presence of someone else awake with him. Opening his eyes slowly, the young looking woman who had been sleeping before now is seated beside him. Soaking a cloth in a bowl of water she doesn’t notice him waking until she turns back to face him and jumps in place when met with his alert gaze.

“You’re awake,” she exhales to calm herself, placing the soothing cloth on his forehead. He appreciates the cooling sensation, but his memory is clear this time. From Rubin’s words, he supposed this woman must be the necromancer he had spoken of. Vahkragg slowly sits despite the woman’s voice telling him, “You shouldn’t get up, you need to rest.”

“You are the necromancer,” his deep voice phrases it like a question though it obviously isn’t. He reads her eyes seeing her try to hide hurt behind an attempt of authority.

“I’m Zsófia. I saved your life.”

“With necromancy.” The giant’s words carry no accusation, a simple statement of fact inviting her reaction. She blushes, looking down at her hands clenched on her lap. Vahkragg senses she resents the fact, but doesn’t deny it.

She fights back tears, trying to sound braver than she is she answers in a hard voice, “I’m sorry. If I’d known how hurt everyone would be I wouldn’t have.”

“Thank you,” Vahkragg states, stunning her from her tears. “Why do you practice necromancy when it shames you?”

“I- I don’t, not the way you think,” she answers, “My power comes from The Wild God’s tradition, I never asked for this responsibility but it’s my duty.”

“Are you ashamed to do your duty, then?”

“I- no, I mean, I’m proud of the good I can do for my people.” She says, Vahkragg can sense the uncertainty in her runs deep. A deep fissure in her resolve. He simply nods, laying back down and closing his eyes, considering the danger she may represent in the future.


After carrying Vahkragg back into the house with Jacob’s return to the field and Zsófia tending to the giant, Pan and Telfor are left alone for the first time since everything had started.
Telfor keeps his head down, watching his tea intently with his attention focused on the revenant. Breaking the silence he asks, “How are you holding up?”

“I’m alright,” obviously a lie, not one he would generally force but he’s going to need Pan’s trust before long and the longer he waits the harder this conversation will become.

“I know you loved her,” he says, “and I suspect you blame me for her death.”

Pan is silent.

“You’re right, her life was my responsibility. I pushed her to fatigue herself during our flight and forced her to protect me in the fight. If not for my mistakes she would still be here, if you hate me because of that I understand. But until we make it back to Pike’s Reach, I need to know I can trust you, I am still responsible for the rest of your lives and I do not intend for Veru’s sacrifice to go to waste.”

Pan nod’s silently. He’s suffering, Telfor thinks, he can’t decide where to direct his anger and it’s turning inwards. I’ll need to keep an eye on him.


A Taste of Eternity

Part Eighteen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
Part Fourteen: Adagio under Lantern’s Glow
Part Fifteen: Into Destiny
Part Sixteen: A Perfect Storm
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno

Raktabīja pours tea for the Mara and me. It’s smell is different to the tea I am used to, not unpleasant but very strong. I raise the cup to my lips, using it to conceal my observing the four Mara seated across from me.
Furthest on the left is a man with the darkest skin of the four of them. Dressed in a finely tailored outfit of mostly black broken up with enough deep reds to prevent the attire from seeming monotone. His head is shaved smooth, giving him a refined appearance that at the same time conceals his age.
To his right the woman who had welcomed me, the only one of the four openly watching me as I drink. Her smile extends momentarily as I look at her, possibly she has noticed my eyes on her. She has cunning eyes, their intensity distracts me from everything everything else about her, my instincts tell me she is in charge here.
Next to her a man dressed in a simple well made outfit is seated. He is handsome but wears an air of humility that makes no brag of it. Two gold rings his only jewellery, one plain gold band on his left index and on his right ring finger a large ruby on simple gold base.
The final Mara is a young woman is gracefully seated. Her eyes and lips are painted in deep rich tones that enhance her natural beauty and she is dressed in light vibrant colours that stand out against her dark skin. Her hair cascades down her shoulders the styled waves seem completely natural. Her hands are intricately tattooed in a delicate pattern and elegant gold and silver jewellery adorns her from head to toe with, inlaid with numerous precious stones.
I lower my tea, returning it to the table. The four Mara doing the same. I expect one of them to speak, but instead they watch me silently. Growing uneasy by the silence I speak, “You have my gratitude for saving my life.”

The woman who had spoken inclines her head slightly. Her eyes narrow quizzically, but still doesn’t speak. Even Raktabīja watches me silently, five sets of eyes locked on me waiting for something. I look down at my tea, wondering if it was poisoned though I can’t imagine what purpose killing me would serve now.
The air turns cold in my lungs, with thoughts of poison and murder I spring to my feet. The damage from the waterfall is still too great and I collapse in a heap on the floor as soon as I’ve risen from my chair. The Mara continue to watch me impassively as the cold radiates outwards from my lungs, the blood freezing in my veins and my extremities turning numb. I struggle for the grey, for my blades but my fingers and mind are too clumsy to properly grip either.
My vision grows fuzzy and distant. The pressure from Raktabīja’s powerful grip as he lifts me from the floor and places me back in the chair feels like the caress of a phantom. As ice spreads through my muscles and lock my joints in place, I can see the Mara who had greeted me still staring at me with her intense cunning. I want to curse her, but my mouth cannot move.
Her voice echoes like crystal in a cave of ice, “Just like you predicted, Skandha.”

“Not quite,” one of the men replies, my eyes are frozen in place and I my hearing is strange so I can’t tell which of the two had spoken. The same voice continues, “He did survive, and is awake, but he has been affected. I’m not sure what that could mean.”

The sound of voices continues, but my hearing seems to drift out of sync with my mind and while I can hear sounds around me I cannot understand them. All of my senses experience the same disconnect. My mind is adrift in a sea of discordant sensations, the only constant amongst the chaos is the ever present deadly chill and all consuming darkness.
I wonder if this might be what dying feels like. I feel remarkably tranquil to my own surprise, no rage or sorrow, just a sense of contentment as I let go of the desire to control or perceive my surroundings. The storm that surrounds me slowly begins to form recognisable patterns. Memories form together in chains guided by some external maternal hand. Silver pin pricks of light form and penetrate the pandemonium. With the light comes warmth. The dark and cold that surround me are not banished by the light and head, but mingle with them. Creating pure comprehension that defies language.

“Wake up, Nightingale,” her voice shatters everything. I realise where I am, all the sights and sounds in sharp jarring focus all at once. Confusion overtakes me, I can feel the moment of comprehension and tranquillity slip beyond my fingertips. Fading like a lost dream. The loss is heart breaking. I hate her for taking it from me, I stare at her, wishing for her to die. She simply laughs continuing to speak, “You’re not an ordinary human are you?”

“I am a shadow,” I answer sharply, she had taken everything from me to ask a question she already knew the answer to.

“But you’re not simply a shadow, are you Nightingale?”

I simply stare hatefully, having no answer to give that could satisfy either of us.

“A shadow should have expired from the tea you drank,” she explains, her eyes tormenting me, boring painfully into my skull but not permitting me to look away, “What are you, Nightingale?”

“I told you, I’m a shadow,” the pain in my head continues to build, like a giant larvae is growing testing my skull for weak points to burst out from. Her eyes continue to pour her evil presence into me, I want to scream but I refuse to give her the satisfaction.
Suddenly the pressure breaks. She blinks releasing me from the chains of her gaze and turns to the lightly dressed man on her right, “Skandha?”

He replies in the voice I had heard before but couldn’t place, “I’m not sure, he seems to be telling the truth but we were not wrong. Somehow he both is and isn’t.”

I realise that the beautiful, jewelled woman has moved and is seated beside me. Up close she is even more beautiful than she had been across the table, I felt a desire for her that I hadn’t felt so deeply since my surgery. She places a soft palm on my cheek, her closeness makes my heart race as the smell of her fills my nostrils.
She searches me for something, then addressing me asks, “Do you have a sibling? A twin perhaps?”

A Cadence of Hope and Despair

Part Eighteen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
Part Fourteen: Adagio under Lantern’s Glow
Part Fifteen: Into Destiny
Part Sixteen: A Perfect Storm
Part Seventeen: Paradiso e Inferno

Like from the hounds of hell we are chased across the vast fields of the farms that surround Caelestis. Raktabīja’s feet slam through the soft turned soil as we charge desperately towards the city. Each thundering step an explosion of pain in my chest. Broken ribs cruelly assaulted by his punishing pace.
The sky takes a strange ethereal quality through the lens of my non-human senses, like the colours have inverted. The world has split in two, through my human eyes the world is bright and in focus while the inhuman senses tell me I am wreathed in flame and lightning threatens to tear the very heavens asunder.
The brightest light is the celestial radiance that is the Angel. In just the short sprint across the fields he is no longer a spec in the distance but close enough for me to recognise his features as James’ companion. Pursued by an invincible monster, invisible to my mundane sight so only at the edge of my perception can I can see him. My mind shatters. Too terrified to even scream, I stare into the empty space that I know conceals him utterly hopeless.
Ahead of us the entrance to Night Town grows rapidly beneath the shadow of the mountain. The open fields of the agricultural districts replaced by the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis. The comforting sounds of thousands of ordinary humans going about their business slowly building to a mighty roar.

“Shroud yourself,” Raktabīja shouts over the roar of the wind whipping around us. I want to argue, the grey feels beyond my reach at first. I grapple with it reaching to find the half focused serenity that is necessary for the change. Pain in my chest with the overwhelming pressure of Raktabīja and the Angel’s aura’s pummel my ability to concentrate. Closing my eyes I accept the pain, releasing it on my exhalation. A technique Benjamin had taught me. Drawing on the dregs of my will I manage to summon just enough control to cloak myself in the mist.
The law as well as the cartel’s are ruthlessly strict enforcing the veil of separation between people and monster blood users. Feared for carrying the power of the aberrant we are loathed by the pure humans. The sheer weight of their numbers an insurmountable threat when roused as one instinctual mass. Any visible incidence of aberrant power will spark riots, lynching and more. That’s why whether shadow, devil or crow the first skill any of us learn is to hide.
As the grey envelops me it enhances my reflexes and opens my senses to comprehend the incomprehensible pace Raktabīja moves through the vast slow moving crowds. The difference between us apparent to me. Under the grey I can glide like water through the city, Raktabīja moves like the wind. Even burdened by my weight he movement have a feline grace such that I might weep if I had had the time to simply watch him.
But what is the wind to lightning? We enter the labyrinthine streets, Raktabīja taking advantage of his intimate familiarity with the area can only barely keep ahead of our pursuer. Through the ebb and flow of our chase at times he is almost close enough that I could reach out and touch him. Perfection. I watch him in deep awe. More beautiful than handsome, he is imposing beyond words. The brilliant of his radiance causes all other light to dim, the source of the darkening of the sky. Every movement he makes is perfectly effortless, never wasting a single movement. I realise the folly in thinking we could escape. With him as our opponent, we never stood a chance.

Towards a narrow stone arch we race. Just a few more steps and he will catch us. I’m surprised to realise that I am smiling, grinning ear to ear. My face cracked with reckless glee. To myself I think, “This will be a glorious death”
Then just as we step through the arch, it explodes. The force of the explosion slams into us, tearing me from Raktabīja’s grip and hurling us into the hard stone of the alleyway. Behind us the explosion has separated us from the angel, a thick cloud of dust and smoke obscures him from view. Leaping from the buildings above four more demons wreathed in the same flame as Raktabīja wielding deadly looking blades, drop into the smoke where the angel was.
I feel a powerful hand grab me and pull me painfully from the ground, Raktabīja has recovered from the blow. Lifting me back onto his shoulder he carries me through an exit to the alley I hadn’t noticed. The screams of fighting and death behind us, I pray include the Angel amongst them. A false wall is dragged to conceal the exit once we are through by four large me, around us seems to be an enormous stone building resplendently adorned to rival the richest estates in The Day. Set as if to entertain many tens of people in spacious comfort, the room is currently empty but for Raktabīja, myself and a group of two women and two men. As dark skinned as Raktabīja dressed in exotic finery worthy of the aristocracy. Glowing ever so faintly with the sign of the aberrant I decide that these must be Raktabīja’s masters.

“Welcome Nightingale, we are pleased to see that you have accepted out offer. We are the Mara,” One of the women spoke as Raktabīja carried me to them, placing me down on a seat across from them, “You’ve cost us a lot just to protect you, I hope you’re worth it.”

Nursing my broken body, barely able to breath without sobbing I stare at them across the table. Five demons and an Angel just for me, I’m a decent enough shadow but whatever they hope I’m worth, they have obviously overpaid. With the immediate danger passed, the reality begins to sink in.
These Mara now own me. The Royals apparently want me badly enough to send an angel. I’m being manipulated by a Marchioness and tailed by a true shadow. And I don’t even know why.

Blood and Lies (pt. 15)

Part Fifteen in the Blood and Lies series
Part One: Blood and Lies (pt. 1)
Part Two: Blood and Lies (pt. 2)
Part Three: Blood and Lies (pt. 3)
Part Four: Blood and Lies (pt. 4)
Part Five: Blood and Lies (pt. 5)
Part Six: Blood and Lies (pt. 6)
Part Seven: Blood and Lies (pt. 7)
Part Eight: Blood and Lies (pt. 8)
Part Nine: Blood and Lies (pt. 9)
Part Ten: Blood and Lies (pt. 10)
Part Eleven: Blood and Lies (pt. 11)
Part Twelve: Blood and Lies (pt. 12)
Part Thirteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 13)
Part Fourteen: Blood and Lies (pt. 14)

“I assume you are all familiar with the history of rise of House Karilas,” Jacob begins slowly, having moved inside the conversation to his home. Seated at the dining table Telfor, Rubin and Pan are served each a cup of tea. Removing the threat Rubin’s university given duty posed to Zsófia allowed her and Aria to tend Vahkragg’s injuries in peace.
The old man holds the trio’s interest firmly with the force of his words. Each needing his explanation for their own reasons. He reads from their silent comprehension that they each have at least a passing knowledge of the story of William Karilas the Holy. The legends of how he conquered the disparate tribes and establishing the Kingdom and the ordering of the gods are common knowledge for even the youngest children. With their acknowledgement Jacob continues, “Our people have been removed from the greater part of the church’s influence. Here the old gods still hold still hold power.”

Telfor watches Rubin’s reaction through the corner of his eye. The scholar’s upbringing had been a product of the kingdom. His worldview still needs to be shaped by experiencing the broader world.
As an anointed crusader Verumalleus had been a positive moderating influence on the young scholar’s zeal. Deeply versed in the teachings of the church with empathy gained through years of experience working with people far from the centres of power, she was able to challenge his black and white notions of the world. As simple soldiers, none of the others could hold Rubin’s respect on an intellectual level.
Seeming deep in thought to Telfor’s eyes, the soldier feels his concern for the younger man’s future actions alleviated very slightly.

“I understand that you must see Zsófia’s magic as a profane thing,” the old man directs the words mostly to Rubin, “We recognise the divinity and virtue of the pantheon and worship them as faithfully as any of the folk in Pike’s Reach, but the gods cannot be everywhere at once. In the corners of the world where civilisation has less of a presence, the gods that were cast out by the pantheon rule in the pantheon’s shadows.
The Anathema is part of this, it is an avatar of The Wild God that is created by sins against him. Zsófia is a priestess of The Wild God, the power you saw that allowed her to treat the poison of the Anathema is His power. While her power would be considered necromancy by the kingdom, it is necessary for our survival here. She does not pursue the power to violate the natural order or profane the dead, but to protect the living.”

The old man’s speech is as one pleading for the life of a loved one. In Telfor’s eyes, the question of arresting Zsófia is a simple one, as he already owed his life and Vahkragg’s to her.
Beside him Pan and Rubin’s expressions are less easily read. The revenant seems by Telfor’s knowledge of him to have grown more suspicious since hearing the truth, while Rubin seems to remain deep in thought.
Jacob watches the three of them closely for any response. With nothing given by the others Telfor chooses to speak, “I owe Zsófia my life. Vahkragg’s as well. I will keep her secret.”

“What sins specifically summon the Anathema,” Pan asks quietly.

“I’m not the most knowledgeable on The Wild God’s rules,” Jacob admits, “As I said, we only follow the pantheon as in the kingdom proper. Zsófia can tell you more when she has helped your friend, if the power hasn’t drained her again. I know that he demands sacrifices, that is the true purpose of the hunt our young men and women are on now. There are offerings that must be made when one is born or dies, Zsófia guides the families through the specifics.”

“How does the village get a priest?” Rubin asks next.

“The tradition is passed down from parent to child. Zsófia’s family have always been The Wild God’s servants here, her father before her and his father before him.”

“What if Zsófia died or left the village without having taught a child?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Jacob’s voice gives no indication to his thoughts on that admittance.

Pan’s suspicion seems to have diminished again in Telfor’s eyes, while Rubin’s light red cheeks have turned a darker shade with his internal struggle continuing as he struggles with the implications.

“How do you know The Wild God creates the Anathema from your sins?” he at last asks, putting the thought to words giving him the confidence to continue, “How do you know it isn’t a naturally occurring beast or that the offerings aren’t what gives the god the power to create it? Beyond the words of a single family of necromancers, what proof do you have?”

Telfor and Pan look back at Jacob, the question seems to stump the old man who hesitates before answering, “She can neutralise the Anathema’s poison when no other treatment can and the Anathema don’t come when we make the offerings.”

“I assume from Zsófia’s pressence that you have been keeping up with your offerings, and yet an Anathema did come.” Rubin crows, “And when it came, it was not The Wild God who protected you, but Atyx.”

The smugness in Rubin’s voice gives a cruel twist to the flippant reminder of Verumalleus’ sacrifice. He can see Pan feels the same way, only ignoring the comment because of a desire for the answer.
Jacob’s mouth opens and closes several times as he struggles for an answer. The pause even longer before his answer this time, and the words are delivered more slowly, “That is true, we have kept up our sacrifices. It is also true that our salvation was paid for by your companion’s noble sacrifice, Atyx bless her soul. I guess I cannot offer you definitive proof, the Anathema has always come in the past when we have failed to make the sacrifice. This is the first time in almost a hundred years that one has came.”

“How do you know it came from a missed sacrifice when it was almost a hundred years ago?” Telfor interrupts Rubin to ask.

“My grandfather told me the story when I was a lad, a storms interrupted the hunt and we couldn’t make a sacrifice in time. He said that many men died, more would have without Zsófia’s grandfather tending to the poisoned.”

“At the university there are toxicologists who could create an antidote from a sample of the poison,” Rubin responds, then seeming to realise something continues, “Can you be sure Zsófia’s family haven’t simply done the same and abused this knowledge for status privilege?”

“I would never do that!” Zsófia cries, having just entered in time to hear Rubin’s accusation. She storms towards the scholar looking pale and weak, but with a powerful fury in her eyes. The scholar rises rapidly from his chair, to meet her charge as she continues to shout, “Do you think I enjoy letting that bastard use my body to enter the world? Can you even imagine how painful it is to be the crucible for the might of a god?!”

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