This story is by Patrick Dudgeon and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The rust on Kel’darr’s wall and ramparts seem to map blood rivers on obsidian dry earth. It was a sight that ever preceded to hold Palan Val’Kin’s young mind of eleven years. A tradition this had become for Palan, every day in the long fingers of the evening. Though these past few months were inhibited with the moral dry rot of war and political maneuvering of a great many of the Imperial family’s about the Court of Nine.
The heavy scraping of iron on stone followed by footfalls announced an induvial making his way up the rampart towards Palan. The man held grey in his otherwise maple beard, and he wore a thread bear-stained uniform over buckled armor. Upon his breastplate stood a broch; a silver hawk lit by ruby flame. A Firekeeper.
The man placed vambraced forearms on the battlements, “Nobility at it’s finest, and war in all its ignorance.” Grumbled the man his icy blue gaze reflected the flames below.
“Is it true then,” Palan said his eyes lost in the Jade horizon, gazing over the sharp mountains of Urin’Cath.
“Is what true?” the soldier grumbled.
“The Silent Lord is he dead. Did the Lady Ardath kill him?” Palan’s wintergreen eyes narrowed upon a few horseback riders chasing a fleeing soldier of enemy rank.
The man grunted then spoke, “Just rumors surely.” He sounded unconvinced with his own words.
“Do you believe them Firekeeper?”
The man wore a surprised expression, no doubt due to the mention of his title. “A man of my caliber is not supposed to think, only follow orders.”
“They said he betrayed a pantheon of Gods, they named him ‘Brother Unforgiven’,” Palan said a proud smile danced across his young handsome face. The man opened his mouth to usher a reply, but then shut his jaws. Teeth grinding and all.
A deep wind gusted from the battlefield below. The scent of death and smoke hit Palan, and a series of tears blurred his vision.
The man smiled gingerly then said, “Hit me hard the first time too, and those times were simple back in the days of the Emperor.”
Palan nodded brushing his tear stained eyes with the selves of his fine robe of starless night. “You sound like…like my father.”
“But I’m not your father.” The man growled with deep disdain.
Another man came up the ramparts and slid in next to the other with a grace of long familiarity. “Making noble-born youths cry once more Captain.” Mused the new addition upon the rampart. To Palan, he could be no older than seventeen at the youngest, and his otherwise bright orange hair was further illuminated by the fires below. He plucked a stone of lace white from his person and tossed it to Palan. It was soft and looked to have veins of ink snaking about its surface. “It’s a soothing stone.”
The Captain turned with a sour expression to his accomplice, “Bringing more gifts for the children Kalern?”
Kalern smiled a fox-like grin and shrugged. “It’s bad down there.”
“Don’t tell me.” The Captain grumbled.
“Sorcerers panic, down in the old towers of Belric killing any and all that move. It’s a shame really with the talents they hold concerning warfare”.
“I was hoping they would have the discipline to rein themselves in.” Sighed the Captain.
Kalern swatted his right hand at a few ruby tinged wasps that darted too and fro about his pale features, “Concerning magic this happens all the time. I just hope the Empress doesnt have choice words for us.”
“Lady Ardath is not Empress, not yet anyway.” Mused the Captain under his breath.
Kalern swore under his breath as one of those wasps stung his palm, “The Silent Lords lastborn child is inbound from the Shattered islands, or so I heard from small talk around a tankard of ale.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Kalern licked his cracked lips, “We could amass an army with the Silent Lords child. The Firekeepers and the ninth regiment can’t be the only ones that hate the Emperors, late wife.”
The Captain grumbled like a bear, “We don’t have the numbers, besides even if we did have the child what makes you think…..”
Another voice had entered the air this one was soft, cold, and imperious. “Commander.”
Both men turned with unenthusiasm to face the women their expressions grim, the captain turned to Kalern then said “They need help down there. Grab Sin’sak and Alkeldar to contain the fires.” Kalern moved trying not to be noticed.
Above the sun ever so slowly poked its face through the smoke-stained sky. Those fingers of light fell upon the Lady Ardath, her features were unworldly in beauty. Her skin shown like an unholy shade of pale ivory and her glossy black hair danced like arms of a limitless black sea upon the wind. Ruby streamers were in evidence, but that only layered her immortal air of beauty. Her otherwise simple robe of the same fashion as Palan’s own, a starless black lined with shining stars, and further accentuated her shapely figure. About her waist was a ruby belt woven of silk. Her eyes were the rare mix of icy hazel and deep sapphire. Her right hand was lined with a pattern woven of ancient runes, furthermore glowing a soft pink in color and throbbed like a beating heart.
Flanking Lady Ardath stood twin figures garbed in layers of black, only their flat opal eyes were visible to Palan. Collected about each of their forearms was a silver rope lined with a small yet sharp blade engraved with symbols and patterns. A Shadow Claw.
Behind the trio stood a shimmering portal of burning white liquid. The gateway reflected a land of plain grey were ash fell from the sky and even stranger creatures dotted the nameless sky. In that distant land stood a twisted city of blacked stone, that must be Salh’Darrk of the Shadowlands, thought Palan.
“And here I thought you were unable to cope with the task Captain Withro.” Lady Ardath said as a slender cat with three eyes brushed against her ankle. Those were rare indeed, Palan noted.
“Things got out of hand.” Anger coloring the Captain’s words.
Lady Ardath smiled a sinister smile, yet in no way did it dismantle her beauty. “Choas serves it’s own purpose and lessons to those who oppose us. Therefore, neither am I specifically concerned with your loss of control.”
Captain Withro lifted his bronze helm and rubbed his forehead where the skin was cracked and dry. “Well, I don’t see how a few minor witches armed with candlesticks can do the empire any harm.”
“You’d be surprised what individuals would do to seize power from others.” Her voice shifted to a sirens song, yet still holding its edge.
“I remember when you were nothing more than a Shakar dancer selling your meager talents to the lowborn. Now, look how far you’ve come, proud of yourself aren’t you.” Palan was shocked at the informality of the Captains retort.
One of the Shadow Claw strode forward, but Lady Ardath raised a slender delicate hand to stop him. “I do enjoy bluntness Captain, but I would advise you to hold your tongue least you lose it. That would instill a travesty for your men, who look up to you passion ruling their reason to fallow you into battle.”
“Forgive me, Empress.” Captain Withro’s words echoed the color of dryness and mockery.
“I’ll have you know that your transport of bodied soldiers awaits you at Opal,” said Lady Ardath.
“Where to another nameless land where the body of empire kills another nameless race of people. Hell, we’ve killed gods. But it’s all the same to Empire. Just another obstacle in your path.” The color of anger resonated deep in the Captains words, and they cleaved to the air like lovers.
“To eastern Nak’Adarithra.” Lady Ardath said and then strode back towards that shimmering gateway forged of pale fire. The twin apparitions followed suit. Once they were through, the portal snapped shut with a great tearing sound.
The Captain relaxed for a time and the silence was unnerving like someone had stolen its value. He turned to face the Palan, his eyes like embers. “Don’t ever become a soldier. Soldiers if they think, become a threat, and for that, they become the tools used against gods and have no mercy towards mortals.” The Captains voice was dry and cracked.
Palan turned his gaze back to the fire’s below and quoted. “We remember what people could be, we are only what we are.” The tapestry of those words spoken did not belong to him, but to the Silent Lord. For he resided in death.