A Dark Fate
Standing before Kazan’dhar, the first city and birth place of the priest king. Overlooking the whirling, foul water that like a serpent, teal and translucent, travelled along a path carved over a great and unknown passage of time, stood a young Woman. A pair of golden-red spectacles resting upon her small, round nose, reflecting the blue flames that adorned the crumbling towers and homes beyond the bridge.
The echoes of the whimpering, ghoulish husks accompanied the Soldiers chatter a ways from her, as they sat round a fire at the far side of the bridge that connected to the city, some more nervous than others. The woman adjusted her spectacles, shutting an ornate leather-bound journal as she turned round muttering to herself.
“So He seeks outside, that which is within. Thus falling prey to fear, anger and another’s whim…”
She was of a rather short stature. The strands of her straight, jet-black hair only just shadowed her pale cheeks. Surprisingly, a light make-up expertly accentuated her lips and almond-shaped, dark-brown eyes, as well as the black fingernails poking out from within her fingerless gloves. Unfortunately though, all this effort seemed all but lost, as the oversized black robes she wore over her floral garments gave her an almost comical appearance. She went largely unnoticed amongst the soldiers, as she spent most of her time buried within a tome she had strapped over her shoulder, or writing within the journal she so lovingly embraced.
“…And in seeking the unnatural. Within the womb of those of man is born that of malice.” She continued.
“I thought I was the only one in this company who could read the Archaic text.” Said Yurah, who stood beside her, gazing at the half buried epitaph at her feet.
The young woman looked at Yurah inquisitively.
“That is an erroneous assumption. My masters were well versed in the language of your kings. Words are but a fragment of all the possibilities of sharing knowledge, as you should know.”
“Hmm, quite so. The Island of Kyo is home to some of the wisest of man. The years I have spent away from them has dulled my manners, I apologise, Lady Akami.” Said Yurah, bowing deeply.
The woman shook her head. “There is no need for that.”
There were but a few tombstones visibly protruding from the earth. Except for the smooth surface upon which were written words in the Archaic tongue, the stone itself was dark and twisted. Each different from the next, resembling more the burnt branches of a tree than the surface of black-rock from which it was made.
Yurah lifted his gaze, turning to look toward the city. “So tell me; what do you know of this place?” he asked. He himself knowing more than any present of its history, but a keen observer would be hard pressed to deny that he had a certain, almost uncharacteristic interest in her.
The woman smiled, revealing her white, fanged teeth. She carefully unwound a red ribbon encasing the large tome she carried, and as she did, she began to speak. Yurah watched her intensely, captivated by her graceful movement.
“Before this place, this land knew not the meaning of the word suffering.” She said, as she opened the tome and began to scan its pages. “This mountain range itself did not exist either.”
Yurah nodded. “Indeed. The Cartographers’ Guild is perplexed to this day.”
Akami pouted thoughtfully, tapping the side of her cheek. “Yes. It is said that a great sickness spread throughout the city during the 1st Shift. And that this mountain-range itself was conjured from another realm to stop it from reaching the rest of humanity. A rather unfathomable notion within our limited understanding of the world, but the city was damned, and soon after it was encased, the great tower of Neede was built to guard the world from its dark influences.”
“Cast away by those of love, he forsook his heritage and replaced it with knowledge.” Said Yurah.
“An excerpt from the Black Hearts of Eideia. The book of the king.” Said the woman. “Said to be somewhat of an account of His rise to power. The book now unfortunately exists only in immaterial fragments and memories that float in the ether. That is where all knowledge of this place comes from. It says the priest king sought to find a cure to the sickness, that he brought back from the depths of the earth the secret of immortality, and with the use of its power, aligned the dead with the living at the heart of this very city, unbeknownst to its neighboring kingdoms.”
“Excellent. You know much and more of this place.” Said Yurah.
Akami curtsied. “My thanks. I studied for many years under the tutelage of a Tar Elder by the name of Imah’an. He often visited me in my dreams, and read to me from the book of the king. He told me of the city that was forgotten, buried deep within the mountain and how it disappeared from the ether for centuries, before reappearing suddenly during the 2nd Shift three thousand years ago.
“And so he marched his armies out into the Frozen Abyss, with a power immeasurable by man, forging a path through the mountain, waging war against the Giants and the Tar peoples, eventually overthrowing the guardians of Djaen and proclaiming this land as his own.”
“Compassion; the paradoxical pillar and downfall of the ancients.” Said the woman, as she slid her fingers through the strands of her long hair.
“Unfortunately.” Said Yurah, peering over the ledge.
The waning fire at the make-shift camp flickered one last time, before it finally expelled its last breath. Goutan watched the two from a far, as they continued to converse and exchange their knowledge. He read their mouths carefully, deducing each word as if he were there close enough to hear them. He squinted and leaned forward, resting his weight on his knee, placing his heavy foot upon a rock beside him. And as he did, his boot slipped, breaking the rocks’ edge, sending a small chunk of it flying into the whirling moat below. The sound echoed, enough to gain Yurahs’ attention, whose eyes he met gazing back at him with clear disapproval.
“Ahem…” he exclaimed as he cleared his throat, awkwardly and unconvincingly shifting his view all about him, attempting to hide the fact that he was, quite obviously, eavesdropping on the two.
“Let them be.” Said Appola.
Goutan scratched the back of his neck nervously. His large hand spreading the dirt that had seeped into his fingers.
“W… what do you mean?” said he.
Appola smiled as she stood before him, cradling her helmet in her arm. Resting her hand upon the hilt of the sword strapped to her belt.
“You are as inconspicuous, as you are large.” Said she.
Goutan frowned, crossing his arms in displeasure, not quite understanding what she meant. The soldiers around him chuckled briefly only until they felt his piercing eye upon them. And then, silence returned once more. There was an air of tension about the place as they waited for the twin brothers to return from scouting the city. Every now and again too, a pale ghoul would quietly wander into the camp, unnerving the contingent even more.
As they had done for hours, the creatures, that vaguely resembled humans, continued to walk aimlessly in and out of the shadows. It was hard to get used to their sight. They were hideous. Rotten and deformed. Although they did not do much else than just be, their stench, their appearance, as well as their gurgled moans heightened what most of the men and women were feeling; a sense of dread and fear of the unknown.
“It’s been ages. What’s taking them so long?” asked Gambo, looking past the bridge into the mist-filled city, sitting next to Luddo.
Possu rummaged through his bag loudly and frantically beside them, stopping shortly as he brought out an oddly shaped bottle at which he glared triumphantly.
“Give us a taste.” Said Luddo reaching over.
“Over my dead body!” exclaimed Possu ragingly, removing the cork, pouring the contents of the bottle down his throat vigorously.
“You’re such a bastard.” Said Luddo, Gambo beside him nodding.
“Pff… like I care.” He answered, waving the half-empty bottle in front of their faces.
Almost three hours had come and gone since the twin brothers Gwyn and Kwyn were sent out to survey the city. Masters of espionage and subterfuge, their talents allow them to slip past even the most wary of beasts, and the keenest of minds. But even so, it was beginning to unsettle the group; that they had been gone for so long.
Time continued to pass, with nothing to report, until something, or someone, caught one soldiers wandering eye.
“Over there!” he exclaimed, pointing a short, stubby finger at the silhouette of a figure that, barely visible, revealed itself amid the mist below the archway leading into Kazan’dhar.
“Is it them?” said one other.
On the other side of the bridge, the mist surrounding this figure cleared momentarily, enough to recognize that it was neither of the twins. The figure was tall and slender, wearing on its head a very large, round hat. It appeared to arch forward and the sleeves of its robes were long, almost reaching to the ground. The contingent immediately readied their arms, with Yurah rushing forward, now standing at the forefront, alongside Goutan, whose large, battered blade rested upon his shoulder, the bridge the only thing in between them and their new guest.
At that moment, from behind them, a resounding, dreadful howl travelled throughout the hollow mountain, and a gust of putrid air shot past each one of them. They covered their mouths as the wind blew aggressively about them, until it gradually subsided, but before long they heard yet another cry, and then another soon after, each time growing more vicious. It was continuous and without cessation.
“On your guard!” cried Goutan as he turned round.
The soldiers formed a tight circle, with blades in hand, scanning their surroundings. The mist, almost sentient, began to flow out from within the city, surrounding them, obscuring the slender figure that still stood unmoved below the archway. And from the mist, one rabid ghoul crawled towards them at an alarming speed, its black eyes shedding crimson tears, the crooks of its mouth tearing as they widened beyond their natural shape. It lunged itself at the group ferociously, only to meet with the steady blade of one of the soldiers that pierced its skull with great precision.
“The husks are attacking?! But why?!” cried the man with the moustache, heaving his heavy, long sword above his head, before bringing it down with full force upon another one of the pale creatures, slicing it in half.
“Stand your ground!” shouted Yurah.
The two husks began what turned quickly into an onslaught of many. And the figure that stood beyond the bridge, did nothing more than stand motionless, watching them all from afar.