Saturday, 26 November 2011

Prologue 5

Two figures, cloaked and hooded stalked through the mist. They moved quickly below the crest of the hill making sure to keep hidden from the road on the other side. The figure in front was the larger of the two. He carried a longbow and a quiver of arrows across his back, the dagger and sword at his side were sheathed. He stopped and crouched low quickly followed by his companion. Together they crept towards the road and lay flat along the ground.

Voices rose from the mist below and the dark shadow of a cart and horse came to a stop. The larger figure held up his hand and then pointed to the ground in front of the other's face. He then rose, vaulted the crest of the hill and sped off down the slope. The smaller figure stayed put. There was the muted sound of a scuffle. Then silence.

"Tybalt, you can come now."

The smaller figure rose and joined his fellow tentatively. They were both obviously rangers, although this was very much not their usual line of work. The larger figure lowered his hood and grinned broadly. He was stood on the road holding the reigns of the cart horse. Around him the bodies of at least seven men lay were they were stood only moments before, the unfortunate driver now slumped against the tree he had stopped to use with an arrow in the back of his skull.

"Should we bury them, Masa?"

"What?" The taller figure casually retrieved his arrows, causing the driver's corpse to slide to the ground unceremoniously "Knock off the 'Masa' business."

"Sorry, Adam."

"No need to bury them. They will be up and around again in a few hours either way, and we've no time to set a fire." Adam turned the horse around and after making sure that it's cargo was still secured, began to lead the cart back towards the city on foot.

Tybalt folded his arms and began to walk with him "Well then I suppose we may as well steal their horse too."

"We're not- okay well technically we are stealing the horse. But! The contents of this Wagon were never theirs to begin with. Plus I don't fancy hauling these crates at all, do you?"

Tybalt's hood was still raised but at close quarters his frown was still clear "What did they steal?"

"Don't know, not gonna look."

"What? Why?"

"Questions get you killed, lad."

Tybalt looked away with a pout "I thought the Guild of Dragons had honour."

"And we do. We're just not fools with it. This commission came from the de Farunelle so it's probably not against the law." Adam caught the filthy glance from Tybalt. "What? I'm nearly fifty percent sure. Sixty... at a push. Well maybe fifty five."

There was an awkward silence. "Aren't they... you know."

"Wizards? Aye. No hiding it too."

"So it's true that they're in the guild then." Tybalt stopped in his tracks. Adam kept walking for a short distance before half turning with a disinterested look.

"Is that a problem?"

"Well you know..." A chill went up the younger man's spine as he caught Adam's gaze. He began to walk again but kept his head bowed. "They're hunting them in the south. For good reason too."

"Uh-huh." The cart began to move again. "Well at least now I know why you were sent with me."

"What?" Tybalt scowled, the ranger's words had carried a note of accusation.

"Listen lad, you're what eighteen, nineteen?"


"And from the southern provinces too, near the Sea of Teeth no doubt. Atican?"

"Yes." Tybalt tried to catch Adam's eye, but he was staring straight ahead into the mist.

"I was too." The horse snorted and began to nudge the ranger from behind. He responded by quickening his pace. "Before the witch hunts though."

"Which city?"

"Eli Varah."


"Exactly. On the wagon." Without slowing the horse Adam quickly scaled the moving cart. Tybalt hopped up beside him with ease and tried to read his expression. The driver's seat was not wide but no amount of closeness would allow him to guess it, the ranger's features were stony and set. "Atican puritans burned the whole place off the face of Eliz not even twenty years ago and put the fear in all the south so no-one ever talks about it or even admits it was there. An' you know why?"

"Because it was full of Witches?"

"Yeah but also no. 'Cos we told them to go stuff it and they turned around and accused us of all manner of things and the king jes' let 'em." Adam cleared his throat and forced his accent back below a civilised veneer, "Point is you can't always trust what the priests say. They have their own agenda and it's got nothing to do with the gods."

"So now you have no faith."

"No I have faith. There are those in our guild who've seen Atis himself walk the face of Eliz. Wizards to the last."

Tybalt looked truly horrified. "That's blasphemy."

"That's the blasted truth. Esa and Favinis haven't lied a day in their lives." It was clear that Adam was irritated.

"If Wizards are so close to the gods then why are the priests burning them?"

"Exactly." The ranger sighed "Look I'm not saying that you should renounce your faith or spit on your father's ways, but Puritans are no better than the Maithans currently makin' slaves of all the people north of here."

The cart rattled on along the road, gently jostling both passengers and cargo as their speed began to once again increase. Whether this was Adam's irritation or something worrying the horse Tybalt wasn't exactly clear, he was too busy sulking anyway. They were getting closer to the city now and the hills were falling away to meet the approaching wetlands in a thickening fog. They had come quite a distance during the hunt although Tybalt hadn't really noticed, now as then he was distracted. After a long silence he finally gave up his sulking. He'd never been able to hold it long anyway.

"So what are you saying?"

Adam's eyes were fixed on the road ahead "Keep your head down and your views to yourself and you'll live a lot longer. 'Specially out here in Vocis."

Tybalt folded his arms sulkily "What's so bad about it? You can leave your doors unlocked in the city and we haven't see a single person all the way from town to here... other than the ones you shot."

"It's not living people that's the problem," He afforded the younger man a sideways glance "It's not Wizards either."

Tybalt went pale. He had heard the rumours coming out of this region, it was not possible at this point for anyone in the country not to have. For the best part of thirty years something had been fouling the waters of the Bizan mountains and causing the dead to rise. The fear of it was slowly tearing the country apart and had lead to a great many cruel acts, chief amongst which was the Puritan Inquisition and the execution of all those it deemed as 'lost souls'. He looked nervously over towards Adam for some sort of conformation but saw that he was still fixated on the road ahead. Tybalt looked out into the mist squinting for some sort of sign that something was there but saw nothing. His thoughts flickered back to the corpses they had left by the roadside. Adam had said they would be up and around in a few hours, was he telling the truth? Gathering his cloak he asked another question to distract his mind.

"So if I should keep my peace, what are you keeping to yourself then? Aside from the fact that you're a casual horse-thief."

Adam pulled the reigns at an angle, guiding the cart around tricky bend. There was an uncomfortable squelch as they neared the edge of the road and soft thud as they rejoined it fully. "I already told you."

"You haven't told me anything. All you've done is preach."

There were a few more minutes of quiet before the older man seemed to relax and the unmistakable sound of hooves on stone started to clatter before them. The horse seemed to calm with him, although it still kept a swift pace. Adam turned to face the sulking younger man with a dangerous look in his eyes. "You think on it, and then decide whether or not I put an arra' through your skull to keep you from talkin'"

Tybalt laughed nervously but it was clear from the ranger's face that he wasn't joking "So you're from a city that doesn't exist anymore. That's your... big..." A slow realisation dawned as he thought on it properly. Between Eli Silas and Eli Gris was the one place that all the children of the southern lands were taught to fear, and it had been the only way and the only winter road open to Tybalt when he set off to join the Guild of Dragons: the haunted woods where demons were said to dwell; where all the trees were young and dead; and the one place that no-one ever claimed to be from, for to do so meant a swift death at the hands of the Blades of Atis. His memories of the forest were still clear enough for the connection to be made instantly. Dark trees and twisted roots around carved stone where none should be and smooth well built roads with many forks. "Where was Eli Varah?" He was afraid of the answer.

"So you've figured it."

"You're from the Fellwood." The mood was tense and the sense of danger sent a dark prickle of heat across the back of Tybalt's neck.

"So arrow or no arrow?"

He didn't even need to think about it, "I'll keep your secret," Tybalt eyed the quiver and bow nervously and noticed that Adam's hand had strayed to the hilt of his dagger. Catching the expression on the older man's face, Tybalt swallowed his pride. "And I will learn to keep my peace."

"Good!" Adam's mood suddenly brightened. "'Cos it'd be a shame to lose a good tracker so early on. We don't get many through who can follow a trail as good as you."

"You're not joking. Are you?"

"I'm as serious as this fella." He nodded at the horse and slowed it to a more gentle trot. The clatter of hoof, stone and wheel became louder.

"You're not funny."

"Ahh..." Adam grinned widely and sat more comfortably. The mist started to thin as they approached the city but they were still the only traffic on either side of the road.

"So what are we going to do with the horse?"

"I'm sure someone will need one."

Tybalt looked back over his shoulder at the crates they had stolen from the would be thieves, at the cart of unknown pedigree, the stolen horse, and the the grinning ranger sat beside him. He couldn't help but laugh. "This is the Guild of Dragons?"

"On a slow day. Normally it's much more interesting." Adam nodded in agreement with himself "Be better once you're in your team!"

"What? What team?"

But the ranger merely winked and said nothing all the way back to the gates of Eli Vocis.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Prologue 4

It had been several days since the enrolment and the Guild of Dragons was a hive of activity. Accommodation for every applicant had been found inside the guild complex and it had not taken long for everyone to settle into a new routine. For most the days were filled with rigorous testing, the evenings were full of aches and pains and the nights were utterly silent (mostly from exhaustion). For the rare few, the days were filled with wandering around utterly bored. Not every applicant was being tested and Morris was one of those frustrated newcomers who had time enough to themselves to find their way into the rooms where the existing guild members were all hiding.

She was in the corner of the first floor in the timber-frame part of the building. It was one of the many common rooms in the building with chairs and couches grouped around low tables. Tapestries lined the walls and there was a magnificent fireplace set right in the middle of the room like a bizarre and almighty column. The hearth was separated from the wooden floor by a circular pattern of tiles, from which four columns rose and intertwined to take the smoke up through the building. The surround was made from white marble and featured the same snakelike dragons as the main hall. The whole effect was quite pleasing.

The youth she had seen with Esa the night she enrolled was sleeping on one of the couches in the corner, and nearby a tired but familiar face was pouring through a sheaf of papers scribbling little notes and biting at her nails. The stressed out woman was blonde and fairly short. She was also Morris' newest and closest friend in all the western lands.

Morris approached softly, and took the adjacent seat "You are still filling in forms?"

"Yes and no. This is all smokescreen for those who claim to have magical skill. Takes forever." Valia sank in the chair and let her head roll back. She was dressed very differently from the day they first met. She was wearing a simple blue tunic with a dragon embroidered in white near the collar. Elizan tunics were long so Morris assumed she was wearing shorts of some kind, because her legs were naked from mid thigh to shoe.


"The Witch Hunters are sweeping through the southern provinces getting the mob stirred up. So we're making sure that our notes are all encoded, although I don't know how many lives it's going to save," Valia picked up the nearest form and waved it absently "Arald has been enrolling everyone as a 'butcher'."

"The guild of sausage makers?"

"Well quite possibly if we don't make sure to hide everyone properly." Valia closed her eyes and frowned "Sorry that was in poor taste."

"They burn them in Zargosa too."

"Yes I'd heard that. Still they're safe here if we can hide them." Valia sat forward again, although she did not return to making notes. The youth rolled over on his couch so that his face was hidden. He had stopped making sleeping noises.

"And this... is your day?" Morris raised an eyebrow as she gazed at the various piles of paper across the table. It was the only one in the room at a decent enough height for writing and it was covered in forms, quills, and inkwells.

"No, I also have to sit in on the warrior testing this evening and make a note of how the people sent to the medic were injured so that the blood letters can do their exam properly."

Morris folded her arms and fixed the blonde with a stare "Why am I not being tested?"

Valia faltered for a second "Well you've come all the way here from Irmir, right through Zargosan territory not only alive but unrobbed and unscathed. We don't need to test you."

Morris narrowed her eyes and adopted a wry smile "It has nothing to do Esa brushing me past your brother."

"Well there is also that." Valia grinned and looked over to her friend.

"I wish to be treated like others."

Valia raised an eyebrow "Really? The warrior's exam is pretty brutal."

"Yes. It is the reason I came all this way. To be equal."

"Well if you insist..." A penny dropped behind Valia's eyes, and she bit her lip "Sorry this is a sidetrack but, how come your Elizan is so good?"

Morris frowned slightly "So good? I make mistakes."

"Well here and there, but it's better than most Elizans... could..." Valia lent forward with her elbows on the table and looked unsure about how to finish her question.


"Could you maybe teach me Aori?"

"Is there a boy?" Morris raised an eyebrow, Valia looked away and blushed "There is a boy!" The blonde nodded, her hand covering a childish grin "Is he being tested?"

"No he's already in the guild. Has been for years."

"Aori?" Morris unfolded her arms as Valia nodded "I do not blame you, Aori men are beautiful."

"So are your women. It must be nice to live in a place where everyone is just so..." She looked around the room to see who else was there, after a moment's pause to make sure that Esa's youth didn't appear to be listening she turned back "Are there no ugly people in Irmir?"

"Oh no. We drown the ugly ones at birth" Morris watched the blonde's expression drop and began to laugh "... I am kidding."

"Oh -I, uh."

"To your eyes we are beautiful but we see our kind every day. To us you also live surrounded by impossible creatures, with your bright hair and blue eyes... although, I do not understand why you have redheads?" At this the blonde began to laugh "Or even call them so when they are more... orange."

"Nobody knows, but redheads aren't so bad. They get teased a lot so they tend to be angrier than most but if you can get past that they are generally pretty sweet, actually."

"And do they... match?"

"Most usually. You'd have to ask my brother."

"How fascinating."

"So is Aori hard?"

"It depends, which Sultanate is he from?" Morris was fast getting used to seeing a blank expression when it came to discussing the Aori. Much as people here claimed to know about these things, their 'facts' were often mostly assumed. "What kind of gypsy is he?"

"Oh... uhm, I am not sure, but he has little pictures of mountains on his clothes and polished stones attached to his belt"

"Then is Vehenya not Aori, and no our language is not difficult. Vehenya less so."


"They speak a lot with their hands. It's all in the gesture," Morris balled her fists and made a jagged motion in-front of her chest "Very macho."

"Yes that! He does that even when he speaks Elizan, and with one hand usually in his waistband."

"Because he is man! Very manly!" Morris sat back in her chair "So if I teach you how to woo your Vehenyai, you will enter me for tests?"

Valia grinned "Shrewd move. But if you insist."

"Then we shake our accord."

Another teenage boy appeared in the door, he looked at the sleeping form of Aluredus with an odd expression before taking a few steps into the room and addressing the blonde "Masa de Neir, we are ready now."

"Whelp! Time to go and watch some horrific injuries." Valia began to gather her effects as the teenager hovered nearby awkwardly. She handed him the ink and quills. "I am glad you came here, Morris."

"I am glad too. Verheni Alin."

Valia paused for a moment and bit her lip "Goodbye?" Morris nodded. "Then, Verheni Alin." With that Valia left the room with the teenager tottering nervously at her side. The Imirran stretched and looked around the room, once again free as a bird with little to do.

(I am starting to get back into this now! Comments are still very welcome.)