The Sundered Veil: Chapter Two

The Sundered Veil: Chapter Two

This is the first10 min chapter of an ongoing, serial style, good old sword-and-sorcery, story. It was originally written as a weekly series and the chapters are split into their original parts.

If you missed chapter one you can find it here.
Chapter One: The Sands of Sorrow


The Road to Boughs Shadow

one

Dhalryk glared at Jekka, or the thing that used to be Jekka, as she slept. He remembered his first frantic meeting with her in the city of Fogspume, cut short by a pair of Nillian thugs sent to silence her forever. They temporarily escaped into the tide of mist that engulfed the lower half of the city, but the fanatics were guided unerringly by some unseen hand. There in the barren streets and the risen fog Dhalryk Morvellum and Jekka DuRell sealed a friendship in blood.

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Dhalryk slammed the door to his inn room and spun to face the raven haired girl. “What was that about? How did those men find us?”

Jekka answered as she approached him. “They were sent by Batoda, he’s a Nillian. I’ll explain but we’ve got to stop that gash from bleeding first.”

Dhalryks face clouded in confusion. “Batoda? He’s one of my customers, a noble who likes poking for relics out in the dunes.” He lifted his arms and Jekka gently removed his shirt to reveal a long gash that ran shallowly from Dhal’s armpit, across his ribs, to his hip. She looked at him with deep brown eyes. “I should stitch this.”

Dhal looked at her, silently considering something in his mind before he answered. “You know what you’re doing?”

“Yes. My father taught me.” She replied.

Dhalryk nodded his consent. “If you must.” She moved to her pack and began to rummage. “So what does this have to do with Batoda?”

“He’s a Nillian. They’re a secret order of wizards who believe that the world should have died with the Sunderspell. They think it’s their job to finish it. He killed my father and stole his notes on the ruins.” She turned to face him with a threaded needle. “Keep your arm up, and try not to move. I’ve only done this on my brother a couple of times.”

“Just keep talking, it’ll help distract me.” He watched her running the needle through a candle flame and decided to look out the window instead. It revealed nothing but the slate gray fog.

She began her work and talked as she did. “My father was a scholar, a historian. He loved the dunes and the ruins under them. He took two trips a year for most of his life and came back with all sorts of stories and drawings. He found a building once that was filled with man shaped stones and hieroglyphs on the walls. He translated them and discovered that the stones were vessels, containers of what he could only decipher as criminal or lawless magic.”

Dhalryk’s brow furrowed at the memory of a tower and a huge gray stone he had found in the dunes. Jekka continued.

“He only studied the first floor of the tower because it was riddled with traps. He thought that the traps were there to protect the higher stones from tampering, because they must be more dangerous. The place was called the Citadel of Keeping. Is any of this sounding familiar?” She stopped her stitching and looked at his side.

“Yes. I found that tower, but only the top was revealed. I sold a map leading to it to Batoda.” Dhal checked out her work. The stitching was unevenly spaced, but adequate for such a superficial wound. “Good job, thanks.” Dhal opened a drawer and pulled on a new shirt. “So Batoda’s mad and killed your father for information about the dunes, and now he’s bought a map from me.” She nodded.

“He killed my father because he wouldn’t lead him there. I need to get there and stop him, but, I need a map.” Dhalryk pulled an empty pack out onto the bed and began to gather up belongings.

“I’ll not give you a map girl, I’m coming with you.” Jekka looked startled.

“But why? I’ve already troubled you enough with those two thugs Batoda sent.”

“Because he lied to me. And because I don’t much like the sound of these Nillians. And because if he uses this power to hurt people, I’ll be partly to blame.” Dhalryk’s face was set with determination as together they left the city of Fogspume.

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Jekka, no Ithagar, rolled over in her sleep. Dhalryk looked to the stars and tried to clear his head of thoughts of the girl. In the past four days across the desert they had barely spoken, and the silence had done him no good. He decided that it had to stop. Without that thing speaking from inside her, his mind kept drifting back, thinking it was Jekka.

Tomorrow, tomorrow he would talk with her and listen to her speak of her long gone homeland, and maybe then he could start to let Jekka die in his mind.

two

As the last of the dunes drifted behind them the great green layer of the Bumblebrush rose up before them. True to his intentions Dhalryk had listened to the never ceasing rambling’s of Ithagar for the better part of two days. Every time she spoke of her past or stared in awe at the tiny moon that orbited the true moon, as if she’d never seen it, he knew with more and more certainty that Jekka was dead and gone. He hadn’t known her very long, but she had suffered hardship before he’d met her, and Dhalryk had dreamed of helping to ease her suffering, avenge her father. He had accomplished the second, but it was no comfort. He did not think that Jekka would have wanted her body to become host to something from a dark age long ago, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ithagar was not all she appeared to be. Crowding his concerns into the corner of his mind Dhalryk began to walk toward the savannah-like trees below. Ithagar followed, talking as usual.

“I’ve never seen a forest like that before. What is this place? ” she queried.

Dhalryk looked at the woods. “It’s called the Bumblebrush, we’re going into them, but only until we can get up top.”

“Up top?” she looked confused.

“Yes, the trees have thick trunks that go up about forty feet and then they branch out and create huge flat canopies of leaves, thick enough to walk on. As you get further into the forest it isn’t safe to stay on ground level… things live in the shadows, down by the roots.” Calmly Dhalryk began to walk toward the shadowy layer beneath the foliage.

“Things? You mean creatures?” A nervous tremble filled her voice.

“Don’t worry, most of them stay out of the light above. We’ve got to get to Bough’s Shadow, I’m running low on supplies. It’s a city about two days from here, its built on top of the Bumblebrush.” Dhal stepped into the shade of the trees, grateful for the cool lack of sunlight. Ithagar stood away hesitantly and then walked into the brush with him. When her eyes adjusted she could see the huge corded trunks of trees, spaced apart every hundred feet or so, a tangle of tiny interwoven branches and leaves above.

“It looks sort of like a cavern.” She commented.

Dhal nodded. “It can be dangerous like a cave too, so take care. C’mon, the quicker we find a Sunhole we can reach from one of these trunks, the sooner we’ll be safe.”

The gloom and silence of the trees was oppressive. After four days in the ever blowing winds of the Sikkomar Desert, the still, tepid air of the Bumblebrush felt like a shroud. Every footstep ground into the pebbly earth beneath their feet and seemed to intrude on the quiet brooding of the dark wood columns. Ithagar was quiet now and Dhalryk was grateful. Slowly they proceeded, looking for patches of light green in the roof above, something to indicate a weak spot where, if it were close enough to a climbable base, they could force their way into the upper layer.

A trickle of a stream cut their path and they stopped to refill the canteens. Dhalryk took the time to wash his hands and face. He hadn’t dared to waste precious water in the desert to clean the blood off of himself, he’d only rubbed at the stain with sand to clear as much as he could. He was scrubbing when Ithagar tapped him on the shoulder and spoke. “Are those fruit clusters over there?”

Dhalryk squinted in the direction she pointed, water dripping from his eyelashes. Forty feet up and two hundred feet away there hung a dozen or more oval shapes, each almost three feet long. As Dhal watched they began to unfurl and reveal insect wings. He cursed and shoved the full canteens back into his pack. “C’mon, we’ve got to get out of here!” Grabbing her arm he pulled her at a quick run back the way they had come. “I think I saw a bower back here, we could make a stand there if they follow.”

A loud hissing of insect wings sprang up as they began to run, confirming that they were indeed following.

three

Dhalryk pushed Ithagar up and into the great corded trunk of the Bumbletree and scrambled in after her. The great trees had gnarled twisting trunks, that more resembled a mass of smaller trees coiled together and twisted like rope, than they did normal bark. Climbing them, and finding crevice-like alcoves, was easy enough.

Dhalryk set his footing in a nook and turned to face behind him, sword drawn, and his shoulders barely fitting in the cramped spot they had found. It was about twice a man’s height off of the ground and he watched below as almost a dozen creatures landed on the dusty ground beneath him.

They were manlike, after a fashion, and stood on two heavier insect legs. Where a man had two sets of arms they had four, and great wings that sparkled oily colors like those of a fly in the sun. Although they appeared to be weaponless the smaller set of underarms had no hands, only a curved claw at their ends. They wore several belts across their chests and waists, adorned with small pouches and satchels but were otherwise naked, not that it mattered, as their bodies were comprised of a hard carapace shell, much like an ant. Two long cockroach antennae careened back from behind each bulbous domed eye, and their mouths were a mass of small hooked mandibles that reminded Dhalryk of nothing more than a mass of squirming centipede legs. Small bones, like those of rats or birds, had been affixed to their hard bodies to form decorations and symbols on most of them. The largest one, who bore a strange pattern of azure stones embedded in his forehead, stepped up and spoke through its horrible maw. His voice was slow and airy, like wind moving over a field of reeds. “You intrude in the lands of Saint Kith infidels.”

Dhalryk gripped his blade tightly. “We only seek to pass over. We wish no trouble with you or your deities.” he yelled down. Ithagar gazed down over his shoulder and looked at the insect men below. She whispered.

“What are they?” she asked. Dhalryk answered through clenched tense teeth. “Some form of Zarran, I don’t know exactly what kind.”

The Zarran leader spread out his wings behind him and raised his arms up. “Saint Kith demands death to those who do not serve him. Saint Kith demands death of the lesser races. Saint Kith will honor me when I purge your heathen souls from the world.” He hissed loudly and all the others raised their wings as he did and hissed with him. They shook their wings and filled the air with the surreal sound.

Dhalryk spat down on them. “Your Saint can crumble to dust for all I care! You’ll get no reward but steel if you try anything with this soul!” He whispered over his shoulder to Ithagar. “When they come, try and get up and out.” He slid a dagger into her palm. “Use this to cut your way into the thicket above and up to the sunlight.”

Her eyes were strangely calm as the buzz of wings once again filled the air. Over the hum Dhalryk heard the zealot shouting though his strange lips. “Glory to Kith! Blood for the Tatchi Mala! Bring me their skulls that they may decorate the glorious Kith Spire!”

“Blast it!” was all Dhalryk had time to say before his vision was filled with scintillating wings and thrusting claws. He was vaguely aware of the sound of Ithagar scrambling up the trunk behind him. His position afforded him some protection and, aside from some shallow cuts on the forearms and hands, he was safe from true danger, but it also hindered his ability to attack his enemies. His swings connected with his flying opponents and, due to their suspension and movement, he simply batted them back, also inflicting little injury on them. At this rate his arms would tire long before the Zarran’s did, and Dhalryk knew it. A claw slashed forward as far as his shoulder and Dhal reached up and grabbed it with his left hand. He held it tightly and as the creature tried to pull away he dropped his sword crashing down onto the side of it’s head. The body fell backwards, tumbled down the side of the tree, and hit the ground twitching. For a moment Dhalryk had a clear view beneath him and he saw the Zarran leader still standing on the ground watching the fight, his inhuman black bubble eyes terrifying in their intensity. He didn’t hesitate.

With a cry of adrenalin pumped rage, Dhalryk sprang from his hiding spot. As he flew from the cleft in the tree one of the things swooped and grabbed at him. Claws tore into his back and stomach as it grappled with him, trying to hold him in the air so that his kinsmen could finish the job. Dhalryk flung his sword toward its wing and grabbed both it’s antenna with his empty hands. He threw his weight against the claws that held him and, at cost of deepening the cuts, tore long feelers free of the Zarran’s forehead. Instantly the insect could no longer fly straight, it pitched wildly, trying to release Dhalryk who held on with his left arm and rained down blows onto the beasts eyes with his right fist. There was a crunch, the world shook, and Dhalryk pulled himself free of the messy wreckage of the insect and turned to face his other attackers. Five more Zarran hovered above him, their leader still on the ground. The blue decorated bug-man looked up at the tree, his horrible gaze falling on Ithagar above. The girl was desperately hacking at the foliage, trying to get up above the Bumblebrush.

“Leave him!” hissed their leader. “I will have the glory of taking his head for Kith. You all ensure that the woman dies too.” The five seemed to hesitate a moment and then sped off toward the higher branches. He returned his attention to Dhalryk. “You’ve not saved her with your actions infidel. Death at Tatchi Mala hands is your god decreed fate.”

Dhalryk cautiously sidestepped and retrieved his sword from where it had fallen. “Forgive me if I put little stock in your god bug-ling.”

The Zarran hissed and unfurled his middle arms to reveal his claws, each of them wearing a barbed silver sleeve, longer and sharper than his natural claws. “I know you hate my god infidel! It is why I, Azzurach, will kill you!” With a push from his thick legs Azzurach launched himself at Dhalryk.

Dhal ran toward him and rolled beneath as the foe swooped. Another gash sliced his back. Half in tatters already, Dhalryk pulled his cloak off and let it hang from his left hand. When Azzurach turned and came in for another pass Dhal turned and ran. The Zarran was faster and gained on him but when the sound of his wings was beating intensely behind him, Dhalryk threw his cloak back and over his head. In the same throwing action he planted his foot and rolled his shoulders. He couldn’t stop because of his momentum but was thrown flat onto his back. His vision went black and the wind was forced from his lungs but Dhal remembered to raise his sword up above him. A sudden impact wrenched it from his hands.

Dhalryk rolled over and shook his head. He got on all fours and looked around. Azzurach was thrashing within the remains of his cloak, a green sickly stain forming in the dirt around him. Not far away Dhalryk’s broken sword lay in the dust. Dhal stumbled to his feet and leapt onto the cloak, dropping his fist over and over at the place where he figured the holy insect’s head was. His knuckles bloodied, but after a moment Azzurach stopped moving. He stood up, panting, and looking down at the corpse.

He heard a terrible scream from up above. It pierced his ears and cut into the marrow of his soul!

“Jekka!”

Dhalryk ran for the tree and started to climb as fast as his bloodied hands could take him.

four

Half way up the tree the screaming stopped and was replaced with a fearful stillness. Dhal had little trouble crawling through the path Ithagar had cut through the branches. It had been widened by her murderous pursuers. Weaponless, Dhal scrambled up and out of the burrow of branches to stand in the sunlight. He blinked in the light and for a moment his vision seemed filled with a purple glare. He rubbed his eyes as they adjusted. An acrid smell hung in the air in spite of the gentle breeze.

There, less than a hundred feet away, sat Ithagar, yet there was no sign of her insect attackers. He ran to her side, his legs feeling buoyant on the springy weave of branches. She turned to look at him as he came, a glimmer of light reflecting in her eyes and quickly fading. Her face seemed serious, her brow furrowed, but when she saw him, the concern slid off and was replaced by a smile. Jekka’s smile. “Dhalryk! You’re alive!”

Dhal clutched her hand. “What happened? Where did they go?” She looked to the horizon and pointed.

“They flew that way. They were almost on me. I tried slashing at them with my dagger but I was sure they would kill me when they simply turned and flew that way.” Dhalryk looked in the direction of her pointed finger. The direction was Over Coreword, and led toward the Blazewater Troth, a sea. Dhalryk said nothing, knowing full well that it was the last place a fleeing Zarran would go. Their homeland, the Carapace Plains lay in exactly the opposite direction. He stood and helped Ithagar to her feet. He winced as he helped her, becoming acutely aware of his injuries.

“I lost my sword and my cloak, and I’ll need to tend these wounds before we can continue. But we should hurry, in case they return.” He sat on a thick branch that rose, log like, from the ground, removed his shoulder pack, and cursed loudly. There was a tear in the bottom of his pack and less than half the contents remained. Dhalryk opened it and dug through, checking on what was there and looking for bandaging.

“Well, the food’s still here, some canteens are missing, and I’ve nothing to tend my wounds with.” Wearily he started to rise. “I’ll have to climb back down and look for what fell out.”

Ithagar quickly stood up and got in front of him. “You’re hurt! I’ll climb down.” Dhal shook his head, no. “If there are more of them…” he started.

“If there are more I’ll not climb all the way down! I’ll be careful. You just wait!” She turned and ran for the hole she’d cut.

Dhal didn’t feel like racing her for the privilege and instead began walk, looking around the ground, seeing if he’d dropped anything up top. His eyes scanned the weave of tight branches and he noticed something strange. There, lying some thirty feet from where he’d found Ithagar, was a fully severed Zarran wing. He hadn’t noticed it earlier since it was clear and nearly invisible against the backdrop of branches. Dhalryk clenched his teeth.

Ithagar was lying. The zarran did not flee in the direction of the waters. Something had severed this wing, and if that was the case, he should be able to see the wingless creature. The top of the Bumblebrush was as flat and low rolling as the plains. If any bug man were fleeing across it, he would have seen them almost immediately as he had exited the hole. Instead all he’d seen was a violet glow, a purple light that suddenly reminded him too much of the energy pouring forth from a shattered ashen stone. And the odor that hung in the air, as if something foul had been burned. The lie was evident.

Ithagar was not what she seemed to be, but there was little Dhalryk could do about it. He was injured, weaponless, and had no idea what could have driven away five Zarran warriors when his own ability had barely managed to kill three of them. The words of the bald bushy eyebrowed Batoda rang in his ears.

“Do you even know what it is you’ve done!? Do you even know? You’ve no idea!”

Dhalryk scowled at the memory of the bloody Nillian and dropped the wing. He had no choice but to continue on his path. The truth was that he still didn’t know what to do with Ithagar and the wise ones at Iridian Doorstep were still his best option. So, just as she was playing the friend to him, impersonating an ally, so would he.

He would guide her. He would lead her. And all the while he would wait. Wait to discover exactly what she was, and what she’d done with Jekka.

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continued


Jude W. Mire is an author from Chicago specializing in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and surreal writing. He writes for Griot Enterprises, has been published in several online magazines, and ran a live horror reading series called Cult Fiction. In 2009 and 2010, he was a finalist in the DeathScribe Horror Radio Play competition by WildClaw theater. He’s married to the extremely talented painter Jill Cooper, and has three daughters, and a bearded dog.

The Sundered Veil: Chapter One

The Sundered Veil: Chapter One

This is the first10 min chapter of an ongoing, serial style, good old sword-and-sorcery, story. It was originally written as a weekly series and the chapters are split into their original parts.

The Sands of Sorrow

one

The nation died with the thunder and left ruins to languish for centuries, its cities become playthings of time to be buried by sand and excavated by wind over and over as the tide washes the shore. Mighty Cheytagaroth was dead and gone, her soldiers very skeletons ground to dust and mingled with the wild breezes. But her cities, her magnificent cities, still rose for the heavens. The tombs of a nation were now left standing in fields that had long ago devolved into deserts and shifting dunes. When the wind blew just right the palace of the old Sorcerates was revealed for a time, or perhaps the Aquiary of Venoms or the famous statue of Dekandis the Wicked. Only for a time was anything ever above the changing sea of sand. All things were eventually re‑shrouded in grit and hidden again from the eyes of the sun.

It was across this wasteland, where every footstep trod upon the buried history of a long dead people, that Dhalryk Morvellum and Jekka DuRell traveled. Burdened and horseless they walked onward, mouths shut to avoid the heat that could evaporate water straight from their tongues. Dhalryk looked ahead, both his eyes straining against the heat distortion and the sunlight. He looked at Jekka and pointed ahead. She nodded and they continued on. Ahead lay the top of a tower, completely buried in the sands, save for the last few floors. Slowly, with tired legs dragging in the hot sand, they made their way to it. The dune that engulfed the tower was angled and, although the tower was straight, the strange tilt of the ground made it appear to lean awkwardly to the left. They reached its base and moved into the first shade they’d felt since sunrise.

They sat panting for a while, enjoying the feeling of coolness on their skin for a while. Jekka spoke. “Can you feel it?”

Dhalryk nodded and uncorked a bottle of water. He took a small drink, rolled it around in his mouth, swallowed and replied. “Yes, I can.” He offered Jekka the bottle and she repeated his actions for herself.

“Do you think they feel it too?”

Dhalryk nodded. “I’m sure, probably better than we do.” Jekka squinted up at the tower and un‑slung her pack to remove a rope and grapple.

“Then we’ve little time to spare.”

Dhalryk nodded, put the water away and watched her fasten a line to the roof balcony. Together they hauled their tired bodies up the rope and into the long abandoned Citadel of Keeping.

two

The once smooth onyx floors of the tower landing were scratched rough by the countless battles with the invading sands. Dhalryk cautiously approached the weathered balcony door while Jekka coiled the rope and returned it to her satchel. He looked at the ground and saw a slight arc in drifting sands in front of the door. Instantly he drew a yard of steel from its scabbard and hissed to Jekka quietly.

“We are too late.”

Jekka’s countenance clouded with concern and she took her bow from her shoulder and notched an arrow. Dhalryk glanced to see that she was ready and took hold of the door. He braced his legs and opened it quickly, his hand immediately returning to his weapon.

The scene that met Dhalryk’s eyes was not what he had anticipated. They had know that Batoda and his chosen seven were seeking the same goal, and now it seemed that they had beaten them too it. Dhalryk was prepared to face them and even their Nillian master, even to the death, when he opened the door. It seemed that he would not have to.

Scattered around the room the bodies of the chosen lie in horrible red stillness, life staining their tan acolyte tunics. The room was bright and the light streaming in from the ceiling damage illuminated every mote of dust and left splotches of white on the floor in the shape of the above cracks. The room was dominated by a dias that rose to the center of the room and was pedestal for a great ashen crystal that vaguely resembled the shape of a man. It was held upright by a large copper ring around its middle and three tarnished green legs of the same material.

It was before this crystal that Batoda stood, still holding the pair of serpentine daggers he had murdered his own Chosen Acolytes with. Dhalryk heard Jekka’s bowstring creak behind him and he raised his own weapon and stepped into the room. The Nillian heard Dhal’s steps and turned around to reveal his white robes dirtied by his crimes. He raised both daggers and laid them across his chest, crossing them in an X, and spoke.

“You must know that your only hope was to arrive here first.” He glances at the bodies of his dead minions from under his bushy eyebrows. “You must also know that you have not, evidently, accomplished this.”

Dhalryk adjusted his sword and felt sweat on the leather grip. “I can’t let you Batoda. If allow this then it’s my fault, and I’ll not live with that.” Batoda continued to look at his dead companions.

“Do you know that I poisoned them? It isn’t what killed them though. I killed them with these.” He raised the two bloody serrated daggers above him. “Do you know why I killed them would‑be heroes, when every single one of them would have given their life to protect me?”

“Because you’re mad!” Snapped Jekka and released an arrow. Batoda lurched to his left and the shaft found its mark in his shoulder. He dropped to a knee and hurled one of the daggers at her as he did. Jekka was already moving but the ill thrown blade was lucky and managed to scrape her just above her boot.

“No, fool girl! Because I was harvesting the poisons!” cried Batoda.

Dhalryk watched in horror as she crashed to the floor with the slap of skin on stone and lay as dead as the other corpses littering the room.

three

Dhalryk’s stupor was shattered by the lunging blade of Batoda. There was hardly a moment after Jekka fell before his enemy was back off the floor and upon him. Dhalryk parried the fast stabbings of the Nillian knowing full well that even the tiniest nick would kill him in an instant. Batoda’s body was turned sideways and he held the blade in his right hand, his left trickled blood from the arrow in his shoulder. The attacks were a series of forward thrusts that changed target each time, trying for Dhal’s shoulder, belly, leg, and head. Suddenly he slashed horizontally at neck level. The blade severed the cord of Dhal’s white desert cloak, but didn’t graze his skin.

Batoda eased up his attack for a moment to see if his strike had found its mark, and Dhalryk seized his opportunity. With the same speed he used to parry the lighter dagger, he slashed viciously and connected with Batoda’s right calf muscle. Batoda screamed and dropped to the floor, bringing the dagger down in a stabbing motion as he did. Dhalryk sprang under the blade and to his right. The weapon pierced the fallen cloak where he’d been standing.

Batoda was hobbled. He tried to stand but slipped back to the ground heavily, a look of hatred as he watched Dhal circle him from a safe distance. His breathing was ragged as he spoke.

“You’ll join her! Mark me, you will!” Dhalryk shook his head.

“You’re going to suffer Batoda, for her, and for everyone you intended to kill. I won’t let it happen!” Batoda’s eyes were wells of darkness beneath his bushy eyebrows. With tremendous effort he pulled his injured leg in front of him and assumed a lotus position, cross legged on the floor, fingertips from each hand spread and touching. Dhal moved in to strike the sitting man when suddenly the fallen dagger rose from the floor near Batoda and began to float above him, as if wielded by an invisible assailant.

Dhalryk was instantly back to where he was before, blocking and parrying the fatal red blade, only now, he lacked the ability to read the body language of his attacker. The task was much more difficult and over and over the blade came within centimeters of his skin. A loud hum was beginning to permeate the room. Dhal couldn’t spare a full glance, but out of the corners of his eyes he could see violet energies starting to flow, fog‑like, out of the great ashen stone and towards Batoda.

Dhalryk knew what he had to do. He parried the next attack as hard as he could and turned his back on the floating death. He took the steps of the dais at a run and as he passed the vibrating monolith he smashed one of three copper legs holding it up with all his strength. He was almost certain that the dagger would land in his back before he had a chance to wheel around and parry; but he needed to destroy that stone, even at the cost of his life.

The old leg, tarnished green, and worn from the ages of sand, broke easily under the impact. Dhal fell down the steps of the dais and rolled onto his back ready to defend himself. As the ancient stone fell it intersected with the blade that was a hairs breadth behind him and brought it crashing to the ground with it. As the gray monolith crushed into the grooved onyx steps purple energy surged out of its cracked shape uncontrollably. Fierce winds spun around the room, surging to be free of the tower’s confines. Sand stung his eyes and the gale carried small stones and flashes of energy within it. Dhalryk stood to his feet and raised his sword.

Batoda was still sitting, being buffeted by the tempest of sand, wind, and color. His murderous hands left red streaks as he clutched his bald head and wailed at Dhalryk.

“Do you even know what it is you’ve done!? Do you even know?” His eyes, often hidden, were wide with terror as Dhal approached his with a raised sword. “You’ve no idea!”

“I know you’ve killed Jekka mage. That’s all I need to know.” The blade descended and Batoda was no more.

four

The energy maelstrom continued to spin like a drunken tornado around the room. Through the howl of sound Dhalryk heard several loud snaps and the room brightened suddenly. A great chunk of ceiling fell crashing to the ground to his left and burst into large fragments. One of these crashed into his hip and sent him sprawling onto his back. All around the room stone descended with ground shaking impacts until the top of the Citadel of Keeping was no more. Shielding his eyes from the wind Dhalryk could see what appeared to be rivulets and waves of a transparent purple liquid, or perhaps a super dense fog, coursing and flowing up and out of the now almost vanished ceiling into the vibrant blue desert sky. It began to slow before his eyes, the steady course narrowing down to what appeared to be sticky strands, like trails of honey, and then these too were gone. The fragments of the stone seemed to cool, stop glowing, and return to their former dead ashen color.

The stinging wind left with the departure of the released magic, but not the pain in his side. Dhalryk stood shakily and surveyed the rubble under the brightness of the desert sun. Batoda’s body had been completely crushed by the falling masonry, and many of his followers were also partially concealed, their dying crimson turning a dark brown as it was absorbed by the drifting sands. On the far side of the room the floor had given out and a dark pit gave passage to the level below.

Dhalryk turned back to the doorway he had entered through and gasped in surprise. There, amidst the broken stones, sat Jekka DuRell. She turned and looked at him with a distant look in her eyes.

“I am back.” She stated flatly.

Dhal scrambled over the rubble to her side. “My God! Jekka! The poisons didn’t kill you! I saw you fall and thought you were dead!”

The raven hair girl stared at him comprehending nothing. Dhalryk suddenly felt uneasy. Her eyes were different, they had changed somehow, and now they seemed duller as if they were veiled in clouds, a strange milky pallor. “Jekka? Are you all right?”

Jekka’s face twitched and she squinted in the sunlight, trying to look around the room. She caught sight of the smashed stone and stood up to get a better look at it. Dhalryk watched her with concern. “These are ruins.” She stated while looking around the room. “Old ruins.”

“Yes. Don’t you remember? I don’t think you’re well Jekka.” Dhal pulled his waterskin out and opened it. “Here have a drink and rest.”

Jekka stopped, looked at the waterskin, and then looked back to Dhalryk.

“My name is not Jekka.” Dhalryk blinked.

“What do you mean? Of course you’re Jekka. Jekka DuRell. Don’t you remember?” Dhalryk reached out to touch her shoulder and she flinched back from him. Raising a slender hand she pointed to the broken stone.

“Within that stone slept my essence, my soul, and my memories. But now, somehow, I’m here.” The girl looked down at her body in confusion and then back at Dhalryk.

“My name is Ithagar.”

Dhalryk stepped back and away from her, his eyes landing on his discarded sword by the dais steps. Ithagar raised her hands and shook her head. “Please! Do not take up your blade! I mean no harm, and I’m as confused as you.”

“Where do you come from?” Snapped Dhalryk, watching her closely he moved over toward his blade.

“From Garachok, I was apprentice to Elethir Devin.” The thing wearing Jekka’s body sat down on a stone and looked at him mournfully. Dhalryk shook his head.

“I’ve never heard of Garachok, or your master either.” He bent down and retrieved his sword.

“Where am I?” She asked.

“You are in the Cheytagaroth dunes, in one of the thousand ruins that they sometimes see fit to reveal.” His figure relaxed some, but he did not sit or lower the weapon.

“Ruins? I come from the nation of Cheytagaroth, and Garachok the Azure is one of our great cities.” Dharlyk tensed at her words.

“You come from the time of the evil empire? The nation of sorcerer kings?” She nodded.

“Yes, our rulers, the Sorcerates, are all wizards.” She stands and looks at the ancient room around her. “What has happened?”

“Centuries ago your kings almost destroyed everything, their empire vanished and they left the world in madness. Beasts and creatures walk the earth as a result, but the Cheytagar do not have to deal with the trouble they caused, because there are none left.” Ithagar shifted uneasily under his intense glare and evident hatred of the ancient and long gone Cheytagar.

“I had nothing to do with all that. I was simply a servant, an apprentice…” Her milky eyes began to tear up. “I don’t understand what’s happened…”

Dhalryk stood in thought, weighing his options. After a time, he sighed and sheathed his sword. “Perhaps you don’t, but either way, I’m not one to figure it out. We should bring you to men wiser than me. I intended to travel to Rogmara, but perhaps I’ll take you a bit further to Iridian Doorstep, the Caldignartian city of scholars.”

Jekka turned Ithagar looked at him in surprise. “Do you think they will be able to explain what has occurred?”

Dhalryk walked over to the smashed stone and retrieved a fist sized fragment. “I don’t know, but with a bit of this stone, and you there to explain, perhaps…”

She stood and smiled at him. Dhalryk’s mind raced at the sight of her smile. It was not Jekka, but he wanted to smile back nevertheless he clamped down on his emotions and scowled at her instead.

“We should be going. There is nothing left here for us but the dead.”

To the eye, the two departed in very much the same way as they entered, but the eye was deceived, and as they headed off across the blistering sands, Dhalryk knew, that nothing was the same.

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Keep reading the story here with
Chapter Two: The Road to Boughs Shadow

 


Jude W. Mire is an author from Chicago specializing in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and surreal writing. He writes for Griot Enterprises, has been published in several online magazines, and ran a live horror reading series called Cult Fiction. In 2009 and 2010, he was a finalist in the DeathScribe Horror Radio Play competition by WildClaw theater. He’s married to the extremely talented painter Jill Cooper, and has three daughters, and a bearded dog.