This is something that I added to the beginning of the novel to help set it up a little bit more. It’s still shoddy, and a little bull-shitty, but I think it works for the most part. If any of you are familiar with the rest of my chapters, hopefully you can give me some criticisms on this set up. Thank you all.
“Dark times are upon us, again. The Shadow — it is stirring.” The wrinkly old man waved his good hand over a bowl of churning filth and wafted the steam into the air. He stared at it for a moment, watching the multicolored wisps float and swirl ominously before him, dancing and changing shape and thickness with each passing second. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the putrid mist.
The room was small and cold, with no window and only a chipped gilded desk that drowned in flakey papers and scrolls stacked with no discernable order or care. On the wall opposite the door, odd vials and trinkets crowded a crooked, splintering shelf that looked as if it had been there since the castle had first been built. The old man — the diviner, as he was known — looked as if he had been in that place just as long as the decaying wooden shelf. The bowl at his feet had stopped roiling, but the diviner was still entranced.
Gherric stared at him for a moment waiting for the mystic to continue his foretelling, but the man stood silently in the middle of the room holding his breath with his held tilted back and his eyes cinched shut — savoring whatever it was that he was doing. The man’s long black cloak covered the frailty of his bones, and enshrouded his gray, straw-like hair. The fingers that poked from one of his rotting sleeves were gnarled and curled in upon his hand and spoke of ages and conflicts unknown.
It had been what seemed several minutes, and time, it had been made clear, was of the essence. “Sir,” Gherric began. “What is it that — ?”
He was cut off by the mystic placing one finger in the air, signaling for silence. He sighed loudly and found a small stool to sit in that was close to the door he had come in some moments before, and suddenly began to wonder if he had been wasting his time.
Half of the mediums in the world were known to be fraudulent, and would tell you anything at all if it would make them a coin. Somehow, Ifrie, as peculiar and cryptic as he was, seemed different, though he hadn’t at first, and even King Lanier had trusted his guidance a time or two, himself. Still, something about diviners made him uneasy, and if the old man didn’t explain his urgency in what he had to tell Gherric, he certainly would be leaving soon without looking back.
The man had sought him out in the yard of the castle barracks teaching swordplay to a young page who couldn’t have know the difference between the pommel and the point of his shiny new weapon.
Ifrie had called him by name, which was certainly odd, considering not many beyond the barracks had ever heard of Gherric Noyel. The old man’s speech was hurried and he spoke in stutters and backpedaled often. He seemed shaken, and his little hands arduously strained for power as he clutched at the once-knight’s tunic. His words were odd, and spoke of darkness and danger. None of it made any sense at all.
Gherric took the mystic’s crippled hands in his own and looked him in the eyes indulgently, urging him to slow his heart, lest he suddenly drop to the dirt, a dead man. It seemed some dire importance, some burningly critical need that required attending to at once. Somebody must have been dying, or in great peril, but still, why was the man speaking to him?
Ifrie took several deep breaths, nodding to himself repeatedly as if reassuring his mind that things were acceptable if not entirely satisfactory. His face seemed to calm a little, but the deep wrinkles that swelled his liver-pocked forehead held strong. He tried to swallow, but coughed instead, sounding like a deflating bellows. Sweat beaded and glistened throughout his shabby beard.
Gherric patted his back, and put his hand’s on the man’s shoulder even though he hadn’t known the old mystic — Lord, it looked as if his heart had been about to explode right there on the spot, and then Gherric would be left standing near the castle barracks with a sword in his fist, and a dead man on the ground. In a place such a Lucansphere, as riddled with paranoia and whispers as it was, that situation certainly would not hold him in favorable light with the city guard.
“Gather yourself. We must move from this place if we are to speak of dangers.”
The old man nodded again, and Gherric sheathed his sword once he realized he was still clutching it in his fist. They began to walk toward the castle base, past the barracks and the siege yard, and beyond the ashen stairs that dipped into the pool that held the crypt of the warriors of old. Looking upon it always made the hair rise on Gherric’s arms.
They walked quietly, but with haste, and along the way, Ifrie began to explain his strange affair. “I expect you’ve heard my name, Mister…not many around here who have not.” He flourished his robe a touch, and gave Gherric a crooked smile from halfway below the hood of his cloak.
Suddenly, he began to frown again, and those fading green eyes he held began to weaken further. With a long and labored sigh, he shook his head in that bewildered way once more. “I am afraid I cannot put in much simple terms how I’ve come to seek you out. Yes, I’ve seen you a time or two to your own business, but Sir Gherric, before this day, I hadn’t known your name at all.”
“I am no Sir,” said Gherric through grinding teeth. Yes, the man might know his name, but surely nothing more. Nothing of the Brotherhood, or the Order of —
“Yes, I have seen,” Ifrie said, interrupting Gherric’s crestfallen thoughts. “Your armor and mail — well, you get used to calling a man in Knight’s dress, sir, and–”
“On with it,” Gherric said. He understood the confusion well and good enough, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t gotten that sort of mix up exceedingly often, but it undoubtedly was getting old. Very old.
“My apologies,” said Ifrie. He wrung his hands together hard enough where it seemed he may pull the skin right off, and began to scan the streets fretfully, lowering his voice as he began to speak. “As I was saying,” he whispered. “You came to my mind’s vision. I was performing a certain, let’s say ritual, which allows me to see the states of places other than where I can see with my own eyes. These visions are sometimes cryptic, and only hold interest, as of late, to merchants or politicians wanted to know where to trade or where to bribe and bugger. My skills are highly sought after, as you can see.”
The old man stared at Gherric through his whispers, and when he was finished, he held a smug smile, showing his spittle glisten off of his filmed-over, rotting teeth.
Now Gherric knew this encounter was a mistake. Some old fool, set to cheat him of what little coin he had put away over the years made his nearly froth at the mouth, and in one solid, quick-remembered action, he ripped his sword from its sheath and put it to the mystic’s throat.
Ifrie threw his hands up in protest, and caught the edge of Gherric’s blade on the knuckles of his left hand. Blood flowed instantly, and he held it to his mouth as if to suckle it like and injured child. Tears welled in his eyes, and Gherric felt a sick pang in his gut as if he had just kicked a kitten.
Amidst the anger of being surely used for a fool, and the guilt of hurting an innocent, Gherric stumbled of his words heavily. He tried to explain his anger, but he failed. He tried to explain his thoughts, and assure the old man that the way in which he spoke told Gherric that he wanted to use him for coin. He failed at sounding convincing in that matter, too. In the end, all he managed to say was, “I am sorry for your hand.”
Rattled, but persistent, Ifrie began to speak of his vision again as Gherric put away his sword. “I assure you, I am not after your dear money. I am after your assistance.” He looked to the sky, and seemed heavily focused on a set of incoming storm clouds. “It has been foreseen. Your path, and hers.”
Gherric furrowed his brow and rolled his eyes. The whole thing still seemed a joke, now bordering poor taste. “I caused you blood, old man, and that it something I don’t take lightly. I owe you a debt, and if my debt is to hear your tale, I will pay it.” Gherric stopped walking and turned the diviner on his heels to meet him face to face. “Hearing your vision is my only debt, you understand? I will pay you nothing.”
Ifrie nodded, waving his hand to silence his lecture, and began to walk again. “Come,” he said. “My chamber lies just ahead.” Gherric nodded in acquiescence and followed.
The memory in his head made him cringe, and sitting in the little stool staring at the old fool who just breathed in the fumes of some surely toxic concoction, positively made the day seem one of the strangest he had experienced since the War of the Horde.
He rose, smiling to himself as he did so, more at his own stupidity than anything, and began to slink toward the door. Old fool man, he thought. Herb induced delirium. Waste of my —
Thunder ripped the air, and wind so strong it could have toppled stones sent the iron door slamming almost into to Gherric’s face. Ifrie dropped to the ground like a crate of apples, his old weathered bones bouncing off of the floor so hard he couldn’t have had a one left unbroken.
Gherric swept to his side and swooped his battered body from the ground to rest upon his knees. A dagger of lightning split the sky out of the lone window, and its deafening echo made the walls shake and the jars of ancient bile, and vials of polluted, glutinous filth explode over their heads.
Screams filled the night air.
The mystic opened his eyes slowly, and Gherric pulled back in terror. There was nothing left of the faded green they had once been. They were white and as cold as winter’s breath. He opened his mouth slowly, and only a groan escape. The wind outside was howling, and vicious bolts of lighting ripped their reverberations of thunder throughout the kingdom.
Gherric leaned closer toward the mouth of Ifrie, it moving softly, but no sounds seemed to escape. “Damn you, old man,” yelled Gherric. “What have you done, playing at the darkness’s games?”
“Not…me,” he finally croaked out.
Gherric stared in shock, his mind racing, and not an answer to be found within it of what to do, or what had just been done. “What is this? What has happened?”
“The Shadow,” he whispered, his words on the verge of trembling. “It grows.”
The hairs on the back of Gherric’s neck rose at once, as sweat immediately began to seep from his pores. It was a cold sweat. The type that plague you in the deep of the night when you wake alone and stare for too long at the strange shapes hidden in the corners of your chamber that you can’t quite make out. The shadows. Tales over a thousand years old still left hardened men trembling in their boots, and nobody over all of the world got pleasure from being alone in the dead of the darkness.
The diviner grimaced in pain, his mouth contorting as his face bore the likeness of his agony. “Death!” he screamed. “In the pass…” He put his hand over his heart and lurched hard, arching his crippled back high into the air. The shock of whatever it was that he had seen wrought havoc throughout his body.
Gherric watched helplessly as the mystic’s once graying hair now turned a solid, uniform white. His face grew more pallid and purple veins throbbed at his temples, mapping out the thinning flow of blood.
The diviner collapsed again to the floor, and this time ceased to move or cry out in pain. Gherric cradled him, putting his palms against his face, trying to ease his departure from life as much as he possibly could.
With his eyes half open, and the green they once were returning just a bit, Ifrie reached for Gherric’s tunic and pulled his face close to his. “It ceases,” he said.
“What…ceases? I don’t understand.”
“It carried over,” Ifrie began. “I stared for too long. The darkness, it clung to me. The Shadow…”
At his last word, his uttering of the name most foul and damned, Ifrie’s eyes shot open, and he heaved himself forward, attempting to stand on his own. Gherric had to catch him, and urged him to stay seated, the shock of his katabasis still rocking the core of his foundations. “You…you’ll hurt yourself,” he said. “Sit. Please. We can talk once you’ve–”
“There’s no time!” Ifrie shoved Gherric away and got to his feet on his own, as if his collapse and tortured state hadn’t happened at all.
The man was exploding with need, shouting at Gherric that he needed to rise, that he needed to run before it is too late. “You need to save her!”
There was that word again, that reference so some girl that seemed so inviting — such a prospect for a fortune teller to offer a man who’d been alone for years. But this wasn’t warming or inviting. This wasn’t to be a story of love in the future. The look on the diviner’s face made him seem a hundred, no, a thousand years older than he had already appeared. His look — his deep, hurried breaths — they screamed of fear. They screamed of agony, and hardship, and loss, and horror.
“I saw you, earlier. I sought you out because…because…”
“Take your time,” Gherric said. “Calm yourself –”
“There is no TIME!” Ifrie flipped his only table over, shattering it against the floor.
Gherric instinctually grabbed for his sword, but the old man put his hand on his forearm just in time.
“Listen. Listen to me.” Ifrie panted in front of him, his breath ragged and harsh. Gherric could see now that tears had welled in the corners of his eyes, making them look large and made of glass. At least the color had returned. He nodded at the mystic and let his sword fall back within its sheath.
“I saw you. A merchant, he asked about Thrym for trading silks. I saw you, and I saw a girl. She was young, and full of terror and flight. You ran, and behind stretching over the southern horizon, a darkness filled the sky.”
Ifrie put his heads in his hands and began to pace about the room.
“That was the whole of it, earlier,” he said. “I thought, certainly, that it was a sign of the Darkness’s rising, once more. But, had I known…Oh, had I known.” The old mystic stooped over, lying his elbows over the stood that Gherric was setting on a moment before. He began to weep inconsolably.
Gherric had tried hard enough to soothe him. Now was the time for answers. “Had you known what, old man?”
At once, Ifrie was back on his feet, frantic and scrambling. “You must go. Now! Thrym is in danger. A war. A great battle is about to take place, and no…No! It is unstoppable now, but yet, you must run, you must push with all of your might. There is a soul at danger. Not one of the fallen, no, not one of the soldiers or townsmen slain in the battle, no, they will all perish to the slayer, but yet there is one. A girl! She holds the key,” he said, now clutching the front of Gherric’s collar. “She is the key, don’t you see?”
Gherric shoved him off. Girl? The key? he thought. His mind raced. Ifrie was panting before him, his mind spiraling out of control, rambling things that didn’t — couldn’t — make sense. Thrym, at battle, with — what had he called it? A Slayer, god what could he mean? Gherric, with no other sense to do otherwise, pulled his sword once more.
“Speak, cleric, and you speak fucking clearly this time.”
Ifrie stood, staring blankly at the blade. He no longer seemed to care of imminent danger. His eyes were cold, focused, and his breath ragged and cruel to hear. He swallowed hard, and slapped Gherric squarely across his stubbled face.
“Listen harder, you buffoon.” His jaw was hard-set, and he spoke now between clenched teeth. “Earlier, in my trance. You were there with a girl. She was young, and you were as you are now. A darkness pooled behind you. It showed signaled an ending. A time of terror to yet befall the realms of man. I awoke, and I instantly sought you out, and you’ve berated me the entire time. I am through with this treatment, but thus, the stars have plans for you, sir.”
“I am no sir, old man.”
Ifrie slapped him again, and Gherric swung his sword up hard, mostly just to scare the man, but hoping he would catch him, too.
His blade was stopped, mid air, the mystic standing before him with an unseen breeze waving his winter-white hair into frenzy. His voice echoed through the room, booming, crashing in on Gherric’s ears, as if amplified by some unseen device. Gherric tried to free his blade from the stuck position it was in, delved deep in some concealed stick of a substance, but it was no use.
“Hear me now,” the old man bellowed. “Thrym will die! The darkness will swallow her whole. A Wind Walker walks forth from the depths of the Stained Fallow, and it will devour the kingdom, whole.”
Gherric pulled frantically at his sword, fear encroaching his thoughts and pushing at his every muscle to act, to lash out with everything his body could muster. He writhed and twisted, spat, and screamed, but the diviners holding would not be undone. Terror wracked his heart, and for once in his life, he was unable to do what he had been born to do. His sword, would strike no flesh, and helplessness bit at him harder than ever before. A single tear slalomed down his roughened cheek.
Ifire bellowed more. “The girl will escape the slaughter, this I have foreseen, and you will find her unmolested. She is the key, and the Wind Walker, just the beginning. Great sacrifice lies in your wake, soldier — Sir Gherric Noyel, Cloth of the Ember, Order of the Firmament’s Fire — but you will see her safe! The world will lie forever in shadow, if you fail. This. I have seen!”
The door behind them flung open, and Gherric was shoved out of the keep as if thrown by a ghost. As his back his the pavement, the old oak door slammed before him, and the old mystic was displaced from view.
“How…?” Gherric began.
He had renounced the Cloth of the Ember some fifteen years before, and the sacred Order of the Firmament’s Fire was the most guarded secret of the realm. Only Ghelrdra from Khifri had known of his involvement, her and, his own brother. But he was dead. Long dead.
Far to the west, across the Swathed hills, and southward from the kingdom of Thrym, a small farm sat nestled between the old battlegrounds of the Guardian Kingdom, and the endless fields that spanned the horizons toward the Fallow.
The southern sun hung hateful in the clear blue sky, and it taunted Rork. At this time in the newborn spring, his crops should have been high above the blackened, beautiful soot that peppered his gorgeous fields. Instead, the heads of the stalks of beans he had planted had turned a rotten brown, and lay flat against the ground, burned through by the unnatural heat of that maleficent sun. That once beautiful dirt had turned an ugly shade, scorched like blackened sand, covered in dried-out thatch.
This early in the spring, most farmers hadn’t likely even planted their crops yet. But, considering how the winter had turned, from tempest ice-storms to summer-like thaws within an instant’s width, Rork had thought to get the planting on early. The summer was festering to be a hot one, and at first, it seemed he had been right.
Now, as right as he was, what he had been right about seemed most peculiarly unnatural. Never in Rork’s 58 years, had he seen a spring like this. By the time it was now, several weeks into the growing season, his beans should have been knee high, blossoming in all of the green exuberance they were sure to behold at the town’s little auctions.
Rork had a reputation to uphold, and the constrained state of which his beans held themselves were sure to ruin it, whole. Yes, it was unnatural, indeed.
He sat on his favorite chair on his little wooden front porch, looking out upon his fields. The arms of his chair ran smooth, run down as if lacquered from years of sitting and gandering, and the seat itself held the worn chasms of his legs, whence he sat and stood for generations upon.
He gripped a small cup, filled with ale from the neighboring town of Turgin. They had gotten it right. Good ale was hard to come by in the south, so close to the fallow, but if Rork didn’t know good beans from rotten corn, he had known a good ale. Their ale was the best around except for that in the kingdom itself.
That flask had cost him a pretty penny, a pretty penny that he hadn’t happened to have, and he had promised a flourish of the most beautiful beans the eyes would ever see to get it. He sipped his ale, and a flash of guilt wrinkled his brow. How would he repay? This season seemed it wouldn’t allow much for paying his overgrowing tabs.
All in all, it was no matter, anyway. His sons had long gone on their own ways, one joining into the armies of Thrym, and another pledging himself to the Lords in Lucansphere. They were good boys, but they were gone. Now, only himself and old Geldra remained, looking after the broken fields for far too long.
In truth, it had actually been years since he had produced a useful crop, but the harboring neighbors had never felt the need to mention it, or deny him goods. No. Rork had been a shining member of the community since before most of the townspeople had ever been born. Time to time he had produced great numbers of savory and celebrated foods for the people of the area, but now, it seemed he had dwindled away, his crops almost feigning obscurity. This season, things were worse than ever. He was sure to be denied goods, and in that, his, and his families death was certain.
He sipped his ale, and looked thoughtfully at the sun.
“I hope that tastes good,” Geldra said, fists clenched and at her hips. “You’ve sure always liked the taste.”
Rork smiled a slight smile, and kept his gaze southward. He saw something there his plump wife did not.
“You keep on smiling,” she said. “Smile like you’ve never smiled before. An end is coming to this.” Her fists shook with rage, yet she did not release them from where they dug in at her hips. “You’ve ran off our sons,” she said. “You’ve made us bankrupt with oaths made in false; you knew these crops wouldn’t grow. Our field is dead. Lord, this land is dead. An end is coming.”
“Yes,” Rork said, tossing his mug forward and throwing the perfect, northern gold ale out onto the dusty walkway below his stoop. “An end is coming.”
With that, he looked toward the southeast, toward the scorched fallow. Great thunderheads filled the sky, illumined with silvery boughs, that torched the blackened sky they ripped across. A wind grew, and all of the dead and browned flecks of bean he had spent days forging in the earth, they began to dance, rising and shaking in the wind. “Yes, an end is coming.”
The scorched fallow. The name was common place now, a leftover legend from the Age of the Risen. Most people, especially Geldra, denied to acknowledge that the battles for the salvation of the earth had ever happened. For as it were, memories often faded to stories, and stories faded to legend. Those legends became myth, and the sands of time often swallowed them whole.
Most people believed that. Most denied the existence of the Shadow, and whether they feared to speak his name or not was a different story. Arcauth. The names didn’t scare Rork any longer at all.
Almost all denied the existence of the heroine Armanda, and her Army of Fallen. Rork didn’t deny that, either.
He had been to Thrym as a young man; he had seen the tomes of the seers, read the literature of the historians, and to him, their word meant much more than the denunciations of a bunch of ill-hearted, small-folk.
The myths, the legends, all of them were true, and he had picked this farm, not to cultivate the land, but to prepare. Rork knew the time of the Shadow was drawing close once more. How could one deny it? Men saw the dead walk the streets — people they had known to be dead, people dead and buried for years! — and they still withered, blaming it on the exhaustion of the drought. Men saw their crops, spring to growth in new, prosperous dirt, just to wilt and die at the turn of the sun. It was unnatural. As unnatural as that storm head, forming just above the Fallow men called scorched.
The dark one rested there, or so the legend said.
Rork looked at his wife, her eyes still held shock over his tossing his ale to the dirt. It had been a crutch of his for years.
“May I tell you a story,” he asked.
She nodded in acquiescence.
Rork stood firmly then, facing away from the fields, turning away from the very thing that had brought him life for all of those pointless years. True, it was, that his beans had been the best in the lands, but that fact was a happenstance, and that tale was written in blood.
“When I chose you to be my wife,” he began. “I began to tell you things. Things of nature and history, my past and what was to be my future. You — you were adamant that I stopped. It scared you, you said. Do you remember?”
Geldra nodded, a curious look in her eye. “You,” she said. “You were young and full of a young man’s fire. You spoke many things. I — I knew you were a good man without all of the lies…” She trailed off, looking toward the ground, as if unsure of what she had just spoke.
“Lies…” Rork said, fingering his temples. “I moved us here for a reason, you know?” He pointed a finger out toward his land, and swung it across the whole of it. “This is where it happened. This is where the Shadow fell.”
Geldra sighed, looking up toward the roof of their little wooden front porch. “This again?” She paced back and forth, eyeing Rork from the corners of her eyes each time she made a pass. “I thought we were over this. The ale, Rork, you’ve got to stop. It makes you stupid — it makes you tell these…these stories!” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, and leaned against one of the pillars holding their porch roof aright.
Rork nodded. Their cohabitation hadn’t always been easy, but she was the woman he loved, whether she were to believe him on this day or not. He wished he hadn’t tossed the ale. He wished he had some of the blacksmith’s vodka, something much stronger to take the edge off of what he was about to say. It didn’t matter, really, though. He knew the truth, whether Geldra would admit it or not. Either way, if she was full of vodka, ale, or that brandy Lady Teilen was apt to serve, she’d believe anything he had to say. Unfortunately, he had to be true, and often, truth led to things about as bad as death.
“The Shadow did fall here,” he said. “And my people were the ones to defeat it.”
Geldra barked a laugh, and tilted back on herself, clutched her chest as if in pain. Rork reared back and slapped her hard across the face. She looked at him then, regarding his cold, weathered eyes. His brow was ruffled, but steady. His cheeks were taut, but stern. His jaw was set to scream if need be, but his face — it claimed he’d scream the truth.
Geldra held her now reddening cheek. She looked at Rork, and she looked hurt. Rork glanced over his shoulder at that head of those dark and nasty clouds, now fast approaching. There was no time for consoling. There was only time to speak. And be heard.
“My father,” he said. “he belonged to an order.” He held his hands out in front of him, thumbs and forefingers held apart, pincer-like, and pointed toward the sky. Through bloodline, I am Cloth of the Ember — a member of the Order of the Firmament’s Fire, and my duty lies here.”
This time, Geldra stood as still as stone. She still clutched the front of her flower embroidered blouse, but her ears were perked, and her eyes shone like glass. “What…?” she said. “You… why do you say these things?”
“The fall of the Shadow did happen here,” Rork said again. “I know, because my father knew. Him, and his fathers and forefathers before him.” He laughed for a moment, shaking his head at some memory that came and then flittered away. “Yes, I was doubtful, too. Doubtful…yes. Until the historians. Until the seers. They all taught me, my father — his fathers before him.”
Geldra’s mouthed opened and closed, but no noise came. Her eyes shone in the great southron sun, silhouetted by the forming clouds of storm. “I–I don‘t know what to think…” she began.
“I love you,” Rork said. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hitting you; I’m sorry for not telling you; and I’m sorry for leaving you to this.” He hissed that last word, and spread his hand again, against the rotten field that held the horizon of their little front porch. He hung his head at the approach of the silvery, tempest clouds that began to blot the earliest summer sun in recorded history.
“The Ember–,” he began. “We’ve fought the Shadow, we’ve entombed the Shadow, and our time has come.”
Geldra looked frightened now, her eyes rose up above Rork’s own, and fully embraced the coming storm. She shook without mercy, true fear shaking her to the very fiber of her soul.
Rork was sad to see her like that, but now, he knew she’d listen to him.
He looked back over his shoulder, and within the clouds he could see things, moving, writhing beneath. One cloud-form bore the face of a skull, stretching out, it’s jaw moving, laughing, gnashing its teeth. Another stormhead broke forth, snakelike, slithering, until wings exploded from it’s back, and lightening forked from its blackened, twisting mouth.
Geldra gasped. If she could see those things, this time, it definitely wasn’t the ale. No. The time was drawing near.
“Do you know why this land had been so fertile, Geldra?”
Geldra still stood shaking, looking upon the mass of encroaching clouds, like a rabbit staring down the length of a bow, yet too slow to draw a distance. She only shook her head.
“Some say this used to be a river,” Rork said. “Some say the sediment from dead fish and the like are what make my crops come so alive.” He shook his head softly, gathering up into visions information tossed down from his masters. “But,” he said. “That isn’t true.”
Rork stepped forth, grabbing his frozen wife by the shoulders and moving her beyond sight of the storm. “My love,” he said. “This is where it happened. The earth is not profitable from the corpses of dead fish. The soil blooms life because of the death of men. This. This place, is where Armanda and her million lie!”
Geldra fainted then, and thunder clapped overhead. Rork thought it a sick joke. He hadn’t meant to scare his wife, but it seemed that the story would have to come sooner than later; so much sooner with the storm brewing, and terror, well, that was a fact of life now.
In truth, it didn’t matter much. All men, women and children were scared when the Shadow touched another’s words. He was sorry she had to faint though. He could have used help with the boards.
He moved his poor sleeping wife, now unconscious with horrid new information, and he laid her to the side, softly on the dirt.
He pulled at the first board of the porch, the smallest one of the steps, nailed in by himself many years ago. He pulled, he hacked with the hammer from his belt, until the board came free, and from that, he recovered the first sword he had ever found, buried beneath the bloody dirt that now made his vegetable fields.
It was dinted, and it was rusty, most of them had been like that, most except for one.
The one he sought bore the Flame of the Firmament, a thick, jagged line, of two halves of a lightning’s bolt that made the frame of the hilt. The blade, he knew, black as night, and slight of curved, with a ragged bloodline, and a scribbled spell, too old to be recalled — that blade belonged to Armanda, the first of the Ember. Her sword, the one sword to defeat the darkness, lay buried beneath his povern, wooden deck.
He smashed with his hammer, lightning cracking throughout the sky. He struck boards, lain by his own hands, crushing them with the blows of prophetic might. Thundered peeled, and crushed.
He dug beneath the wood, feeling, cutting his hands on weapons of old, some ragged and beaten to no further use, and then he stopped.
The thunder seemed to roil, setting back beyond the edge of the clouds, seething with anticipation.
Rork ripped Armanda’s sword free from it’s dusty haven, and held it to the air. Lightning fired the sky, thunder growled, and pulsed hard enough to send Rork to his knees, yet he held the famed sword high, and pointed to the skies, a blade of legend, said to bring death to death itself.
The clouds didn’t seem so dark then, beyond the image of the blade held in the sky. The lightning slowly ceased, but the clouds held their girth. The tempest loomed, coaxing him to try his luck. Holding that sword before him, he felt a sudden pang of fear.
The sword in his hands, although held by the great and mighty Armanda, was, in reality, only a sword. Armanda, she lay dead, tilled in with the drying dirt that lay at his feet. That was thousands of years before that she had died, and buried the dark one with her. Yet, these clouds, this awful, dread-ridden storm, roiled with the taint of the shadow, set to explode over the whole world at any given moment.
Over his field, a wind grew, and on it came a blackness. A large sweeping form of wind and darkness spiraled forth, and settled itself just at the edge of the field. For a moment that blackness, that malformed mist of wind and horror paused, and formed the shape of a man. The thing, black wind spinning off of it, like shreds evil whipping the world, strode forward.
Thunder growled within the clouds, and they seemed to churn with eagerness. From somewhere far off, Rork thought he heard laughter, cackling, insane, squeeling laughter.
He hadn’t realized it had been his own.
Come to me, he thought. Bring me my destiny…
Lightning set fire to the sky.