The fire was no longer lit and I was no longer asleep. I woke startled and uncomfortable to find the Thief crouched in front of me with one hand over my mouth and another to her lips signifying that I should remain silent. I felt like lashing out at her for the rude awakening she had caused me but a rustling in the distance replaced my feelings with reality. She saw my eyes soften and removed her hand from my mouth, trusting that I would not cry out. Rising slowly from my resting place, I followed Kyra as silently as my feet would allow. She was by far more skilled in the art of stealth than I, but her leading gave me an advantage that I would not have had on my own. Placing my feet where hers had been, minimally disturbing the forest floor, we took to the shadows behind a near-by tree.
There were two of them. Though they carried no torch, light from the full-moon outlined their shadowy figures. As they drew closer I could here that they were talking but not what they said. Fear rose from my stomach to my throat as they closed in on our position. I looked at the Tallri for direction, but she seemed not afraid, remaining perfectly still and silent behind the tree. With my rising fear came curiosity fed by their now discernible conversation.
“Lord Klychawk will be displeased.” The one who spoke stood slightly taller than the other, his speech sounding rusty and foreign.
“Piss on Klychawk Zyngoth, and piss on his displeasure.” The shorter man spat out the words like bitter herbs. “It has been too long since I’ve felt the blood in my veins surging to match the mess on my face from a fallen enemy! You know as good as I that the north is growing restless.”
“I do, but leave that to the politicians, not the warriors. Once steel is drawn there will be no sheathing it.”
“Piss on politics! I will draw steel and have no desire to sheath it until all those who defy my blade are left swimming in their own blood!” The short man drew his sword in a seeming rage and gave a number of heart-felt slashes to his invisible assailant before stopping his ravings, holding steel and breathing heavily.
“Put that thing away you blasted fool!” The larger man commanded his voice rising over the other man with authority. “Your wasted efforts do nothing but wake the woods.”
“They wake the man inside me who has lain dormant for far too long. You hear that Klychawk!” The man screamed in his fit of rage. “My lady is out and she longs for blood! Give me something to stick her in or she will find home in your chest!” The smaller man whirled around in a rage unable to control his blood lust, searching for something to kill.
A purple glow rose from between the taller man’s hands as he brought them together. It swirled and sparked as it grew like a ball of violet lighting waiting to strike its mark. “You will put away your sword or the only blood you will see this day will be your own!” The man barked, attempting to subdue the lust rising in his companion.
“YOUR BLOOD WILL SUFFICE!” The shorter man turned to face the other and held his large sword out, defying the man’s words. The forest lit up as lighting flashed from between the taller man’s hands, piercing the air as it rushed forward. The purple shaft met with the shorter man’s sword, sending an electric shock through the metal and deep into his bones. He dropped his sword and fell on the ground trembling and immobile from the shock he had received.
The taller man stepped forward, hands still glowing faintly as he approached the other who now lay alive yet incapacitated on the forest floor. “You forget your place, allmharach.” He spat at the man before lifting him off the ground. “I should leave you to fend against the death in these lands like your ancestors, but I like you too much for that.” An evil smile spread across his face as he continued. “I had hoped to get my fill of that perkoh from Glanderxe and his Tallri friend but…” his cruel smile widened as he opened his mouth to reveal two large fangs “your blood will suffice!” The words shot from his mouth like tiny knives before he plunged his face into the man’s neck.
The meat of the spirit deer I had eaten rose to my throat and I almost regretting the large meal I had glutinously devoured. I could not take my eyes from the man as blood began to drip down his neck and gathered in a pool on the forest floor. I knew not how long the feeding lasted, though my terror made it seem like hours before the dead man fell from the fangs of the other. “You have abandoned the gods of your ancestors. They cannot save you from this death. Serve me in death as you did in life.” He raised his hands once again and they glowed with that now familiar purple hue. He held them over the man on the ground and I watched as blood dripped from his palms onto the dead man’s body. The blood did not reach his body but formed an unnatural cocoon around him.
Once the dead man was entirely encased in blood the other man lowered his hands. I watched as the blood slowly dripped down the encasing like water on a pane of glass. Soon his form was once again revealed… but it was not as before. It glowed with that same purple hue as the spirit deer did before its death. The spirit of the dead man rose from the ground, leaving no body behind. The taller man turned and bade the other to follow. They continued through the trees the way they had been going as if nothing had changed. Soon the shorter man disappeared as I had seen the spirit deer appear, like passing from one plane to the next. The woods fell silent once again and I was caught somewhere between relief and horror as we revealed ourselves from hiding. I followed the Tallri back to the camp and sat in my place by the now lifeless fire. I once had found comfort here, in the warmth of the fire and the beauty of the trees, but after what I had seen, that comfort would not return.
My mind was swimming, lost in this fantasy world which I found myself. How did I get into this? I was stuck halfway between fear and bewilderment. So many questions swirled around my head as I looked over at the Tallri. She seemed equally disturbed as I, not that I would expect any different after what we had just encountered.
She saw me looking at her and she turned away. Was that shame I saw in her eyes? “We must leave this place at once.” She said without looking at me.
What was she ashamed? “Not until you tell me what is going on.” She was hiding something. I didn’t know what, but she had been far too quiet lately and too much was left unanswered.
“Did you not hear the man? He is hunting us. The more distance we put between us and him the better, and we best be quick about it.” Grabbing her makeshift pot she dumped water on the fire to kill any life that might remain in the logs.
“What are you talking about?” I rose to my feet and watched her while she made busy about the camp-site gathering what she could into a small pack she had fashioned from the deerskin.
“Who do you think that perkoh from Glanderxe and his Tallri friend are? I have seen no other Tallri in these parts and especially none travelling with a man from Glanderxe. You surely cannot be that dense, Mert!” I could see that she was beginning to lose control of her emotions. Something was deeply troubling her and I guessed it was more than the sight we had just been witnesses of.
“You may be Tallri and I from Glanderxe, but I am no perkoh. I am a man.” I knew not what other kinds of strange creatures roamed these northern lands and had never seen a perkoh before, but certainly I had no intention of meeting one based on the other inhabitants of this place.
The Thief stopped what she was doing and looked at me, her eyes burning with haste. “A perkoh is no strange creature. You clearly don’t know the words of the north. He was insulting you, showing his disgust of your juvenile nature, a feeling which I share.”
Usually when she chose to insult me it was in jest, but this was no game. My naivety disgusted her and she clearly had no desire to be slowed down by explaining any more than she had to. “I see that you are in a hurry to get out of here, and I have no intention of staying here any longer than necessary, but a simple explanation of what is going on would aid your cause immensely. I will not pick up and leave just because you say so! In case you have forgotten, you are my prisoner and I will have no more tricks or lies! Tell me what you know!” I felt heart begin to pump faster. Easy Mert. Don’t let this get out of control.
She threw the pack down that she had been collecting various supplies in and took a few heated steps toward me. My hand reached for the pommel of my sword, more out of habit than fear of any actual danger. “You wish to waste more time through frivolous conversation! Fine! Those two men were servants of Klychawk Zyngoth, god of the north. He holds more power through his dark sorcery than you or I could match even with 10,000 knights backing us. I don’t know what you have done to get on his bad side, but I don’t aim on sticking around to find out!” She spat the words at me while wagging her finger in heated accusation.
“I have done nothing! I don’t even know this Klychawk character! You are the criminal among us! What have you done!”
“Me? My only enemies are those of Riul herself, but I know better than to pick a fight with the god of the north!” Her chest rose and fell with animated breathing and I decided that it would be best to attempt to calm her before things got out of control. I saw what she had done to the spirit deer and had no desire to draw steel against this woman.
“Let us calm down.” I attempted to speak as soothingly as possible, though my own emotions fought against such desires. “It matters not which of us he is after or for what reasons. You are right. We must be away from here, but it is clear that we must work together. It pains me to ask for your aid as it equally wounds your pride to associate with someone as naive as myself unless necessity requires it. Based on what you have told me, and the scene I have witnessed with my own eyes, I wish no more than you to tangle with this god of the north.” I paused expecting her to give some type of response, but she merely searched my eyes for their intention. “You know more about these lands than I do, that much is plain, but I have been trained in combat by Sir Kherine himself, captain of the royal guard of Glanderxe. I have also, according to you, been gifted with some strange power over nature through this Horn of Riul. Whether we aim to battle or run from the god of the north we must start to trust each other. That much is plain.” I didn’t know what had come over me. I wanted nothing more than to deliver Lady Calwen’s message to the Pharosh and be done with this Kyra and this foolish question, but our circumstances were making me re-think my plain intentions.
“A thief I may me, but you are a fool. This quest proves to be more than a thief and a fool can handle. There is only one in all of history with a greater hatred of Klychawk Zyngoth than the Tallri. They are the only ones who have ever been able to battle Klychawk on the open field and survive. It seems that for once our intentions align, Mert Whatley. We must seek out the Pharosh across the great River West.” She finished, handing me my coin purse she had been hiding since we met so long ago in Dete Plych.
A great rumbling could be heard from within the swirling mass of energy that stood at the centre of the garden. Beams of impenetrable darkness launched from its core, shrouding all in the absence of light. Tiyhak pressed on through the darkness, his spirit drawn by the presence, guided by the will of Klychawk. The gnarled trees stood tall around him, scraping his spirit as he progressed. It no longer felt strange to leave his body behind, knowing that it was just a holding-cell for his power. Life and death are held in the spirit, the body directed by their will. It was not life that called to him, but death. The master of death. The god of the north. Klychawk Zyngoth.
The purple glow of the skeleton trees made him feel strong. Important. Few were granted access to the spirit plane, and even fewer access to the garden. The darkness that protected it in the plane of life invited him in death, guiding his spirit through the inky cloud. As Tiyhak approached the pool of death he could feel the steam in his spirit, the heat invigorated his dead essence.
My Child. God spoke from within the pool, his words piercing the darkness, sending beams of electric fire toward Tiyhak the addressed.
Father. He always addressed him as such, though the word meant nothing to him. He had no father. Never had. Never would. Who could birth his spirit but death itself? Klychawk, the master of death was the closest thing he had to a father.
I feel the fire within you. What makes you burn so? The spirit placed his hand on Tiyhak’s heart.
I burn for the blood of your people cruelly taken from your hands. He didn’t know why he tried to lie to Klychawk. A spirit cannot lie, for truth is more plain in death than in life.
You burn. Burn. Burn. Klychawk began to weep. My son! Who has caused you this pain?
One word is all it took. That one word he dreaded to say, but the love of his father overwhelmed him. Allmharach. He could hold the spirit no longer. He could not lie to his father. A shroud cleared from around him, revealing not one spirit, but two.
The pool began to bubble and spit. Shafts of lighting blasted the darkness as the trees began to weep. My son. This pains me. He continued to cry as Tiyhak remained in silence, stunned by the response of his father. His rage still burned within, but father was not angered. He felt his spirit begin to soften as Klychawk’s tears fell. This is indeed a burden, but one that you must bear. There is no grace in death.
I know, father. What could he do? The Allmharach had attacked him in the plane of life. He deserved not to remain.
I sense your spirit is weakened, as it must me, for you no longer control one spirit, but two. May death guide you as you seek out its will. The pool began to settle for Klychawk had no more tears to cry. This is the way of the north.
Tiyhak’s anger was taken from him. He felt the sadness of Klychawk surround him in the darkness of the garden. It reached for him from the branches of the trees above, comforting his spirit. His spirit almost laughed from the joy the sorrow brought. He was a burden in life. As death enslaves his spirit to me, may he no longer be a worthless follower, but an asset.
Klychawk laughed from within the pool. A fine eulogy, my son. His useless life is forfeit. I see you did him a service. I pray now he does you one as well, for he could be a burden in death as he was in life. Your first slave always drains you the most.
My spirit is strong, father. I am ready for this burden. Klychawk always made his feel confident. His love for his son overwhelmed his spirit.
Go now. Rest. The journey ahead will be long, and you must regain your strength, my son. Train this spirit well and he will bless you in death as he didn’t in life.